Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Un-Cookie Monster

This morning Jaela, Macey, and Anya had a dentist appointment, and as always, they got balloons when they were done.  Isaak got one too, but being a not-quite-two-year-old-boy, of course he accidentally popped his shortly after we got home.  As soon as we were done with school this afternoon, the girls began playing non-stop with their balloons, being very careful to let Isaak watch, but not touch, because they don't want him to pop theirs too!

After a quick snack, we all worked together and made cookies this afternoon, and as soon as they were ready to go into the oven, all three girls disappeared upstairs to play with their balloons again.  Isaak and I watched the cookies bake by ourselves.  When the first tray came out of the oven, I sampled one to make sure they were done and shared a small crumb with Isaak.  He announced that it was "Goo!" and ran to the bottom of the stairs to tell his sisters about it.  When he paused in his babbling, I called to him to tell them the cookies were ready while he was at it.  The girls heard me and came running to the kitchen.  

While they ran all over the kitchen getting themselves plates and glasses of milk, and all three girls tried to tell me at once which cookies they made, and which ones they wanted, Isaak quietly disappeared.  I had my suspicions, but I waited until each of the girls had their cookies and milk before I asked, "Where's Isaak?"  They shrugged, not really concerned (or interested), and in that brief moment of quiet, an "Ooooooh!" floated down the stairs.

I couldn't help it.  I started laughing, and they asked me what was so funny.  I told them, "Isaak waited until you were distracted by the cookies, and then he went upstairs to play with your balloons!"  NOW they were interested in their brother's whereabouts!  "Eeek, Isaak!  Don't pop my balloon!"  They ran upstairs to move their balloons out of reach, and shortly all four kids reappeared in the kitchen.

This time, they made sure Isaak got his cookies first, before they sat down to their own!  :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ophiophagus hannah

Macey knows that Anya is currently fascinated by cobras, so even though she is herself petrified of snakes, Macey bought Anya a book about cobras and a toy cobra for her birthday.  Since Anya discovered that she can actually read for herself, we have been learning interesting little tidbits about cobras for weeks now.  The day after Anya's birthday, we learned that yes, cobras can climb trees.  We were thrilled.

When Anya came dancing excitedly into the office a few minutes ago, she exclaimed, "Look Mommy!  It says in my cobra book that king cobras have enough poison to kill an elephant!"

The sentence actually reads, "It [king cobra] has enough venom to kill an elephant."

Yeah.  I am seriously re-thinking the rest of her Kindergarden curriculum.  I don't think "See Spot run." is going to cut it.

(Ophiophagus hannah = King Cobra)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thoughts on Mowing

Our back yard has a definite slope to it, and our lot is not square.  I know these things about our yard, and I appreciate them for different reasons, but when it comes to mowing the back yard, the odd shape of the lot drives me crazy!  I like the nice neat lines the lawn mower creates, but it takes some creativity to get them to line up neatly from any angle...not that I have too much energy to waste working on that!  

I like those nice neat lines for two reasons.  They look neat when I'm done, and when I'm in the process of mowing, they give me guidelines to follow; I can see where I've already been.  This morning, as the lawn mower was bouncing crazily over the roughest spots, and I tried to keep my lines straight, it struck me how much mowing my back yard has in common with my walk with God.  

We have trees in the back of our lot.  They are not evenly spaced by any stretch of the imagination, but they make excellent focal points nonetheless.  When I mowed uphill toward the back of the lot, I could fix my eyes on a tree, and no matter how crazily the mower was bouncing around, I could easily keep my lines straight.  Going downhill towards the house was easy going.  The mower still bounced over the rough spots, but it was downhill, and I felt like I could relax a little, at least enough to check on the kids playing on the back deck.  The problem came when I reached the bottom and turned around to go back up again.  The lines going up were as perfectly straight as I could make them, but the lines coming down were completely uneven and crooked, because I didn't have a focal point.

So I tried a new strategy.  Going uphill, I picked a tree to keep my eyes on, and going downhill I found something on the house or deck to focus on.  That worked pretty well, but looking back up from the bottom of the hill, again I could see crooked lines.  This time, the crooked lines were caused not by not having a focal point, but by taking my eyes off of the focal point to check on the kids or to throw a stick or rock out of my way.

I was reminded of Philippians 3:12-14.  "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Now don't get me wrong!  When mowing the lawn, it is important to throw sticks and rocks out of the way, and to check on the kids every now and then.  It's even okay to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and to relax a little on those downhill slopes.  Those actions, on the other hand, made me realize how often I focus too much on the things of this world and neglect "pressing on toward the goal."  

I spend a lot of time thinking about things like how to raise my children properly, how to teach them, what we are eating, and what needs done around the house, which are all good and necessary things to consider.  However, I should not be focusing on those issues to the point where I no longer have time or energy to read my Bible, pray, and "strain toward what is ahead".

It is hard work mowing uphill, and it is hard work following God's ways, but they are both made easier by keeping my focus in the proper place and on the right thing.  Often my walk with God is comfortable and easy, as is mowing downhill, but when I look back, I find that I have neglected something, or become complacent about something I shouldn't have. 

I need to apply these lessons I've learned today about mowing my back yard to my daily life, and do as Hebrews 12:2 says:  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  

When my eyes are fixed on Him, it doesn't matter how rough the ground is beneath my feet.  When my eyes are fixed on Him, the lines of my life will be as perfectly straight as I can make them.

Just like my back yard.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Any Excuse Will Do

My friend Amy had a birthday last week, and when we went over to her house for a playdate the next day, she shared part of her birthday cake with us.  It was chocolate, with white frosting, and it was wonderful.  The cake was egg-less and moist, and the frosting tasted like cake batter, only better.  Amazingly good frosting, especially if you like cake batter as much as Amy and I do!

I lasted about two days before I broke down and bugged her for the recipes.  I got them this morning, and made the cake this afternoon, just so I could try the frosting!  The ingredients in the frosting are 1/2 box of white cake mix and a pint of whipping cream.  I knew before I read the label on a box of cake mix at the store that I wasn't going to like the ingredients, but I was pretty convinced that I could try just mixing up half a batch of my favorite white cake using only the dry ingredients and the vanilla.

So I tried it, and it worked!  (Next time though, I'm going to cut the sugar in half, because it was way too sweet.)  I told everyone that we were pretending it was Spring's birthday, so the girls asked for those little candy Happy Birthday letters (like Amy had on her cake) to decorate it.  I had some leftover "springy" sprinkles from Anya's cake last year, so we used them too.

Yeah, I know.  Spring doesn't really have a birthday, but when you're craving chocolate cake and cake-batter frosting...any excuse will do!

Happy Spring!


Jaela came part way down the stairs, more offended than upset.  "Mom, Anya's hitting me!"  She didn't wait for a response, but turned and went back upstairs.  A few seconds later, Anya appeared part way down the stairs, blue eyes all teary.

A:  Mommy, Jaela-
Me:  (interrupting)  I don't want to hear any sentences that start with Jaela, Macey, or Isaak.  Now, is there something you needed to tell me?

There was a brief pause while Anya thought that over.

A:  Mommy, someone didn't keep their promise.
Me:  That's too bad, Anya.  Go play nicely anyway, or find something else to do by yourself.
A:  Doesn't Mommy want to know who?

Our Roman Soldier

Jaela and Macey began learning about Ancient Rome last week, and a few days after they read a book called "Who Were The Romans?", they used their imaginations (and a few props) and created their own Roman soldier:
And I am once again breaking up sword fights on a daily basis!  :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Green Smoothies

My kids and I love our green smoothies.  I have one with my breakfast almost every day, and when I'm feeling generous, the kids get some too.  I felt generous today at lunch, and here's the proof!  :)

Baking Day

I haven't made bread in over a month.  Not REAL bread, anyway.  (Quick breads don't count, especially when they're a new recipe and taste terrible.)  So.  I planned for today to be a "baking day".

We got a late start.  For breakfast, around 9:30, while I started a double batch of Crock-Pot Yogurt, the kids each had some milk, a banana, and a pear while they were waiting for their boiled eggs, which weren't ready until almost 10:00.  The scones didn't come out of the oven until almost 10:30, so by the time the kids were done with breakfast, it was almost 11:00.  We finished half of school for the day before lunch, (no one was really very hungry yet, so we had green smoothies and the rest of the scones for lunch!), then while I started a pot of vegetable stock, the kids cleaned up the dining room and living room.  During naptime, I peeled, chopped up and froze some tomatoes that were getting soft, and then when the girls got up we finished school.

Have you noticed how the day was already half gone and I hadn't done any real baking yet?  Yeah.  I noticed too.

So after everyone had a snack, and I had procrastinated as much as possible, I started making tortillas.  Anya and Isaak decided they wanted to help.
Well, Anya wanted to help.  Isaak was more interested in seeing what she was doing.  Before I started rolling out the tortillas, I decided to start another batch of scones, too.  Jaela cut in the butter for me while I worked on tortillas, and by the time the scones were ready to go in the oven, the tortillas were all rolled out and ready to be cooked.  While I worked, Jaela and Macey cut up fruit for a fruit salad.  (I think we'll be having those fairly often this summer.)  :)  

We had scrambled egg burritos in fresh tortillas for dinner, with fruit salad.  There are scones for breakfast, and enough left-over fruit salad and boiled eggs to go with them.  We had a nice relaxing time outside around the fire-pit with Mark and Mary after dinner, and when we came back inside I thought of what Jaela had asked me as I was taking that second batch of scones out of the oven..."Can we have another baking day tomorrow, Mommy?"  Hm.  Yeah.

I still haven't made bread.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Raising Godly Tomatoes

I read a book recently on the subject of child training called Raising Godly Tomatoes, written by a mother of ten.  While reading it, I alternated between thinking, "Wow, so I'm not crazy for doing that; it really does work for other people, not just me!" and thinking, "That's a really good point, I need to be doing that with my kids!"  As with every book I've read on this particular subject, I took what I needed from it and left the rest, and a week ago today I "re-claimed my life and turned over some new leaves."  (At least that's what my Facebook status said all week!)  :)

The main concept of the book (also found online here) is that children are like tomato plants.  While they are young and tender, they need to be staked so that when they are more mature they will be strong enough to stand on their own without support.  While the author, L. Elizabeth Krueger, does not advocate literally tying your children to you like little plants, she does stress that in order to properly train your children to have right heart attitudes, and in order to teach them how they should behave in any given circumstance, a mother should be with her children throughout the entire day, not just in the same house.  She gives some very practical ideas of how to handle different inappropriate attitudes, and when I finished the book, I was determined to change a few things around here, starting with me.  

I began by re-claiming my life from the black hole that sucks time away from me every single day.  The computer.  It was a habit, and it was bad!  I was always online.  I would check email, Facebook, the news, and all my favorite blogs over and over again before breakfast, before school, during school, after school, before snack-time, before lunch, etc., and I was online the whole two hours of Isaak's nap.  The cycle would repeat itself all afternoon and evening.  Sometimes only five minutes would elapse between when I got off and when I got on again.  I knew it was bad, and for a few days one week I exercised my self-discipline and stayed off the computer most of the day.  Something HAD to change, and the something was ME!

Last Sunday night after I finished reading the book, I pushed my computer desk chair under the desk as far as it would go before I went to bed.  The next morning, kneeling at the computer, I checked my email, etc., and then got up and left the room.  I got the chair out at nap-time and caught up on research, emails, and a few other things, but as soon as I was done I placed the chair back under the desk, and wonder of wonders, I actually had time to read a book!  The whole week was like that!  I spent minimal time on the computer during the day, actually had time during the kids' naps to read books and walk on the treadmill, and miracle of miracles, I spent the rest of each day with my children!

Once I was doing what I needed to do for myself, I started re-training the kids.  They are well-behaved kids ( I will admit that!) :) but the whining, back-talking, and fighting amongst themselves had reached epidemic proportions...or maybe it just felt like it!  Even Princess Anya was re-earning her babyhood nickname of Tirana (Spanish for Tyrant).  I was repeating instructions 4 or 5 times, and then having to stand over them to make sure they did what I asked, and Anya would melt into fits of crying and sobbing if she didn't want to do something, to the point where she couldn't stop sobbing even if she wanted.  She had also mastered the dubious skill of manipulating her sisters, through tears and screaming, into doing what she wanted them to do.  So I took a few of Elizabeth's suggestions, and turned over some new leaves on my little tomato plants.

We did everything together, for five days in a row.  We cooked, cleaned, schooled, did laundry, ate, read, played, did chores, you-name-it, we did it.  All.  Together.  I laid out the new rules for them up front, at the very beginning.  Whining and talking back are unacceptable.  Crying is only allowed in the corner, unless someone is grievously injured, of course!  If someone doesn't obey me immediately and cheerfully the only time I ask them to do something, they will do it repeatedly until they can do it properly and cheerfully.  If anyone starts to talk back to me when I tell them something, we back up and I give them the exact words they should use instead, and they practice saying those exact words as they follow instructions.  Bad attitudes or tears earn time spent in the corner, until Mommy has determined that the attitude has changed.  

The girls thought the whole thing was kind of fun (until it came time for each of them to visit the corner) and kept thanking me for letting them help with everything.  It was hard for me, though.  I had to remember to only say things once, and to catch them every time they started to talk back.  It was mentally exhausting, but at the end of the first day, no one had gotten away with whining or crying, there was NO fighting, and everyone had smiles on their faces.  By the end of the second day, Anya told me that she had had such a fun day that day, and when I asked her what was fun about it, she had to stop and think for a minute.  The look on her face was priceless when she answered, "Mommy, I think it was so fun because I didn't even cry once!"

Ah.  Exactly.

I like this new family of mine.  They haven't had to change much, but they've changed just enough to make me want to keep doing what we're doing.  The first day, Jaela and Macey saw the book sitting on my desk and asked me what it was about (it does have an interesting title!), and after I explained it to them, they have started to call themselves my little tomato plants.  :)

And today they tried to plant least that's what it looked like!
As Anya was showing Isaak how to dig his fingers into the muddy clay, she announced that she was teaching Isaak how to get dirty.  Later, Jaela and Macey helped him smear mud all over his arms so that he could "be an Indian too."  What a trooper!

Friday, March 13, 2009

An Anya-ism

"Mommy!  I just looked out of the tops of my eyes and saw a red leaf blowing, and I thought it was a squirrel!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy 5th Birthday, Anya!

Our little princess is 5 years old today!
(She requested a chocolate cake "stacked up in a tower", with pink frosting and horses going all around it.  This was the final result, and she declared it "exactly what I wanted!")

A bonus birthday present for's snowing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Christmas in March

All three girls raced upstairs as soon as they had each unwrapped their treasures.  Anya filled hers with small toys and created a bed for her beloved pink bear on the top.
Jaela very neatly folded and organized her doll's clothes in the bottom drawer and filled the top drawer with her doll's "other stuff".
Macey filled her drawers with her doll's small things and clothes too, also neatly folded, just not quite so organized.  :)
And Isaak is willing to SHOW you his cars, but you can't actually HOLD them.  Not yet.

At lunch today, in the middle of a conversation about something completely different, Macey suddenly announced, "I think that today, Roy is my favorite person.  And I REALLY like my new thing he made me!  He just made my day!"

I couldn't have said it better myself!  :)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Band-aid Episode

A few weeks ago I was working downstairs and Isaak was playing ball in the hallways and living room.  He was laughing and running around, and then he got quiet.  I called for him to come to me in the kitchen, and he came, holding one hand on the back of his head. I asked him what he was doing, and he responded, "Ow."  I asked him if he had bonked his head, and he nodded, then ran off to find his ball again.  He played for a few more minutes, more quietly than before, then before it had even registered in my brain that it had gotten completely quiet again, he reappeared in the kitchen wearing a band-aid stuck to his forehead.  

Me:  Oh, Isaak, did that bonk on the head give you an owie?
Isaak:  Yeah.  (Accompanied with nodding)
I checked for blood underneath the band-aid.  There was none.
Me:  Did your sisters give you a band-aid?
Isaak:  Huh-uh.  (He still gets Huh-uh and Uh-Huh confused sometimes, but I was pretty sure this meant Yes.)
Hm.  One of our household rules is that to get a band-aid, there has to be blood.  No blood, no band-aid, and they're kept in my bathroom closet to help limit their availability.  I shouted up the stairs to the girls and reminded them that they are not supposed to get band-aids without asking me first.  "OK, Mom!", they shouted back, and went back to what they were doing.

I went back to work, thinking about how sweet that was.  Isaak must have bonked his head, told his sisters about it, gotten sympathy from me, and then one of them must have given him a band-aid to make him feel better.  Against the rules, yes, but SO sweet!

The band-aid wasn't on long before Isaak decided to throw it away, and the whole incident was forgotten until I went into my bathroom that night to get ready for bed.  This is the sight that greeted me:
I was exasperated.  How hard is it to put a band-aid wrapper in the trash without being reminded, and to put the unused ones back where they belong?  If the kids make a mess, they are required to clean it up, so I left it where it was until morning.  But I couldn't stop thinking about the whole chain of events, and I came up with a theory.

The next morning, my suspicions were confirmed when I questioned the girls.

Me:  Isaak told me yesterday that one of you got him a band-aid.  Who was it?
M:  Not me!
A:  Not me!
J:  Not me!
Me:  Do you think Isaak got it himself?  Those two band-aids are all torn up along the sides like someone tried to open them and couldn't.  Isaak, did one of your sisters give you a band-aid?
I:  No.  (Shaking his head.)
Me:  Did you get it yourself?
I:  Yes!  (Nodding his head.)
Me:  OOOOHHHHH!  Isaak, band-aids are for when you get an owie with blood, not for when you bonk your head!
I:  (scowling at me in protest and pointing to his forehead)  OW!
Me:  You bonked the back of your head.  You didn't need a band-aid on your forehead.
I:  (still scowling in protest)  OWW!!!
Me:  Isaak, did you have a headache?
I:  (face lighting up)  YES!!!

Later, Jaela told me, "We wondered why Mom was reminding us about band-aids when no one had gotten one!"  

And since the now infamous band-aid episode, I've been working a little harder on helping Isaak use Yes and No instead of Uh-huh and Huh-uh.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What Brown Does For Isaak

One of Isaak's favorite toys is the UPS truck that one of our favorite people gave him recently.  The day he got it, he wouldn't put it down except to eat, and then he tried to take it to bed with him.  Mommy didn't think that sounded like a good idea, so we compromised and his truck spent the night on the floor RIGHT NEXT TO Isaak's bed where he could see it.

It's a great truck to play with, of course, and apparently it is also perfect for cuddling with when you don't feel good.  You'll have to take Isaak's word for it though, because he WON'T share it with anyone!

Status Report

This picture of Isaak is a perfect example of how all five of us feel this week.

Fevers.  Runny noses.  Coughs.
Naps.  Lots of naps.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Consonants Optional

This morning Isaak was sitting on my lap at the computer looking at pictures with me while I worked on organizing them.  "Mmmm!", he said, and lunged forward to point at the picture of boiled eggs that was on the screen.  "Those are EGGS."  I told him.  He scrunched up his face with the effort, "Ehhh."  He lunged forward again and pointed at a picture of himself.  "Iiaaa."  I wasn't sure I'd heard him right.  "WHO is that?"  He grinned.  "Mama!  Dada!  Bebe!"  

Fast forward about an hour to lunchtime, with all of us sitting around the table.  I asked if anyone wanted salt and pepper on their food.  Isaak raised his hand.  "Meee!  Iiaaa!"  We ALL heard it that time, and the quizzing began.  "Isaak, can you say Anya/Macey/Jaela?"  For the next ten minutes or so, Isaak was in the spotlight.  

He would look at each of his sisters in turn, screw up his little face in concentration and burst out with their name...but of course, consonants are optional when you're 21 months old.  Anya is now "Ahhyah", Jaela is "Yayyah", and Macey is "Maymee".  

I'm not sure who is the most proud, Isaak, Ahhyah, Yayyah, or Maymee.

Not My Mother's Yogurt

I have never really liked yogurt.  Especially the homemade plain yogurt my mom used to make in the hotbox in Peru (Sorry, Mom!).  So I simply avoided eating it.

When Jaela and Macey were little, I used to buy them those special baby yogurts.  I figured that I should at least taste what I was feeding my kids, and what do you know?!?  They were pretty good!  I started buying yogurt for me, too, in all the fancy flavors I could find.  After a while, Jaela and Macey were both eating yogurt at least once a day, too, and it was cheaper to buy them the same kinds I was buying for Mike and I.  When Anya graduated to eating "big people yogurt" too, it got to be a little bit expensive.  We were going through at least 25 yogurts a week, usually more, and the commissary doesn't carry any (cheaper) generic brands.

When I was pregnant with Isaak, I had gestational diabetes, and I had to pay attention to how many carbohydrates were in each thing I ate.  Just one of my favorite yogurts filled my entire quota of carbs for a snack, (and it was too many carbs for my breakfast), and I began to examine the label a little closer.  Sugar. Lots of sugar.

So I borrowed a little trick from a friend who is a registered dietitian and mother of four, and began mixing the sugared, flavored yogurts with plain yogurt for the kids' snacks.  Three scoops of plain yogurt for each kid, and one scoop of flavored came out perfectly.  We used only one yogurt a day (for the kids, anyway) and they no longer complained that their yogurt was too sweet.

When Mike left for Afghanistan, I quit buying yogurt for his lunches, and the kids and I started mixing other things into our plain yogurt for snacks.  We've had it with raisins, frozen fruit, honey, jam, brown sugar, and granola.  Most recently, our favorite way to eat yogurt is plain...and warm.  (I can hear you now..."Eww!  Warm yogurt?!?  That's disgusting!"  Bear with me...)

I was now buying plain yogurt in those two pound containers, and we were eating so much of it  that I was beginning (again) to question the cost, not to mention the fact that two times out of three the commissary was out of it when we needed it.  So I looked online and found a recipe for making yogurt in the crockpot.  And it actually works!  The first time I tried it, it was ready right at breakfast time, and all four kids practically inhaled their huge servings of warm yogurt, and then they asked for more.  Well, except for Isaak.  The only words he said the entire time were, "Mmmm.  Mmmm.  Mmmm.", and then finally he asked for more too.  "Mo, Mama!"

Yesterday I made it again in my new crockpot, but a double batch this time.  I had also found a recipe for vanilla yogurt, but it called for almost as much sugar as it did milk, so I decided to just try adding vanilla to the milk and see what happened.  I made the vanilla yogurt in my old, smaller crockpot.  I started both batches yesterday morning, and by 9:00 last night they were done.  I waited until 11:00 to put all the yogurt in jars, and I ran out of jars before I had emptied the crockpot of vanilla yogurt.  There was about 3/4 of a glass left over of the most liquid-y of the still-warm yogurt.

So I drank it.  It was so good that I mixed a little milk into another glassful of yogurt this morning for breakfast.

It is definitely not my mother's yogurt.

(Disclaimer:  It makes a difference when you get to work with real milk.  In Peru, milk came in the form of powdered milk or evaporated milk.  Blech.  No wonder mom's yogurt was awful!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Three Black Squares

You can't see them, can you?
Even if you could, would you know what they mean?

I'm talking about those three little black squares.

Yeah, those.  Right in the middle of Mike's chest.  They're important.

They mean that Mike is no longer CW2 Michael D.
He was promoted today!

Congratulations CW3 Michael D!