Sunday, December 23, 2007


"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God."

So this is the last of the O Antiphons. Everybody, probably, has heard the Advent carol O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. And this antiphon is its origin. It pretty much sums up what the antiphons have been leading us to pray for days -- You, who have all these characteristics, and merit all these titles, come! Because we are eagerly awaiting that awe-inspiring mystery God-with-us!

(This is probably my last post until Thursday or so, so to all of you --and you know who you are!-- have a blessed and happy Christmas day, full of love and joy!)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

King and Keystone

" O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart: O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust."

The O antiphons are coming to an end! Every year when they start, and it's clear that Christmas is soon, seven of them still sounds like a large number, that will take a while to get through. But this is number six. And I am "not ready". This means that the wrapping is not all done, and a few more things should be bought, to fill in holes in my list that I didn't realize I had.

But that's my Martha side coming out. The antiphon doesn't refer to "the day everything has to be done by." George came home last night, a day earlier than I expected him! (Apparently the whole rest of the family was in on it.) And even though he was early, and everything wasn't ready (like making Tommy clear his stuff off George's bed) I was overjoyed to see him. How much more should I welcome "the only joy of every human heart"!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Radiant Dawn

" O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

The references to "darkness and the shadow of death" in yesterday and today's antiphons are quotes, from the prayer of Zechariah after the birth of John the Baptist. (It's found in Luke 1:68-79.) In the translation I know best, the end of it goes:
In the tender compassion of our God
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

In the last few days I've learned about a number of people who are literally living "in the shadow of death" -- the son of a friend who has melanoma on his liver (discovered through an X-ray for pneumonia!), an elderly friend who's been on oxygen for years but now can't keep his blood levels up, a woman whose elderly father (who lived with her) just died who has such an intense job that she has no time to grieve. All of these people know and love God, but that doesn't stop them from bearing the weight of the darkness. But God has tender compassion for all of them, and us, and the "dawn from on high" will break. No wonder we await His coming!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Key of David

"O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom."

I had never noticed before I started this posting on the O Antiphons just how much they refer to freedom. I think we all tend to forget, because our lives are so comfortable (especially compared to most people through most of history), how bound we are. I'm bound by customs that have become law in my head, and by my own pre-judgements of things and situations, and by choices I've made in the past, and many other things I'm rarely aware of. Just because there are no chains on my ankles doesn't mean I don't need the Lord to come and set me free!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Flower of Jesse

"O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."

Wednesday is never my favorite day of the week. I do too many of my least-favorite chores on Wednesday. But if I get them all done, I get to go to the Barnes and Noble cafe, sip a decaf mocha, and read for a while. Fortunately, Christ's coming doesn't depend on my working hard. I just have to be ready to stand silent in his presence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lord of Might

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."

The title I gave this post is a phrase from O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Because I've known that longest, I tend to remember the antiphons in its phraseology. But it's really more about freedom. I could sure use some strength and freedom these next two days. I have all my regular chores, plus wrapping still to do and a few final decorating touches. And Maggie is even now in an airplane, winging home from her semester in Austria!

I am very excited to see her, but since her best/cheapest flight package was from Chicago -- a six hour drive -- Roger has already left to pick her up, and they won't be home until tomorrow. They'll be stopping to spend the night at Arwen's house, which is almost 2 hours closer to Chicago, and then swinging over in the morning so Maggie can see Rosie and Daniel. So tomorrow afternoon! And George flies in on Saturday. Christmas is coming!!

Monday, December 17, 2007


"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation."

Today is something our family has been waiting for all year -- the first of the "O Antiphons". For our family evening prayers (and also some people's personal morning prayer) we use the Liturgy of the Hours, the official daily prayer of the Catholic church. (Bet you thought that was the Rosary! Nope, that's considered a "private devotion", --which is of course how we use the LotH ;-D ) Every day at evening prayer we recite the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise in response to the greeting of Elizabeth. Each day of the liturgical year has its own antiphon, a sentence or so which is traditionally recited between sections of the prayer. We just read them at the start of it.

Some of the antiphons are simply quotes, from Scripture or from the Magnificat itself. But starting on December 17 and running through the 23rd (because evening prayer of Christmas Eve is the start of Christmas), the antiphons are translations of very old (fifth century AD?) Latin ones. The Wikipedia article I linked to above has an excellent analysis. But you've certainly heard them; the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and many other Advent hymns repeat them.

For our family, the O Antiphons are many things. For the kids (especially when they were younger), they just mean Christmas will be here soon. But for someone like me, who is always struggling to balance the "Mary" and "Martha" parts of Advent, they give a "theme of the day", something to meditate on while running at full tilt. So I'm going to post them here each morning, and with an effort maybe I"ll be able to slow down and prepare my heart.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shop 'til You Drop! (out of the blogosphere)

Most years I start my Christmas shopping in January. I did, in fact, buy a few items this year. This is all facilitated by two things.
1) Finances. We set aside money each month all year toward the following Christmas. If I see something perfect in August (or January!) money is available to buy it. And we NEVER have post-Christmas debt, because when the money is spent, that's it for this year.
2) Stratford! The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is a summer highlight of this little town in Ontario, about a two-hour drive from us. The town is geared toward tourists and more tourists, with lots of fascinating shops and intriguing restaurants. But the festival only runs from April to October, so many of the hotels have specials designed to attract winter visitors. For the last ten years Roger and I have taken a winter get-away, spending half-price for premium accommodations and doing a little shopping and a lot of nothing. (Double jacuzzi, bottle of bubble bath, two books and two beverages of choice -- bliss!) About one shop in four is closed for the part of winter we're there, but the rest love to see people carrying actual money. And I always get a Christmas present or two for the upcoming year.

Most years I try to do the bulk of my shopping in October and November. Peruse the internet deals, figure out what I'm going to grab at the local mall as soon as the markdowns hit, wait for the major retailers' "$10 off a $50 purchase" coupons. But somehow this year it just slid by.

My excuse is that I got out of the habit last year. George was in boot camp, I was waiting for him to get home for Thanksgiving and gearing toward that. And then he was "rephased" (for lack of ability to do enough pushups fast enough), and I wound up being able to go to New Jersey for the graduation, which set back my shopping another week.

As my children will tell you, I am not a big house-cleaning whiz. Tidiness, yes. I go around every morning and put things back in place, straighten the slipcovers, load the dishwasher. But dusting and vacuuming, not so much. The only time I really CLEAN is right before the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, so that I can decorate a clean house. Last year, I decided that something had to give , and cleaning was it. So the shopping got done, a little late. And we had a lovely Christmas in a dirty house.

This year, skipping the cleaning was not an option. The house was a year dirtier. As you read here, Rosie helped me with a couple of rooms while she and Daniel were visiting. We did the downstairs, the rooms we'd use for Thanksgiving. The upstairs rooms were left for me. And I finished the last one on Monday. Christmas cleaning was over!

But despite the Stratford purchases, and a few other things I picked up over the summer, my Christmas shopping was barely begun. I had ideas. (Some things, like new sleep pants all round, are practically set in stone!) But the getting of the stuff -- nope. I had missed the coupons. The markdowns--due to the economy here in Michigan--were still there, and deep.The internet sites were offering free shipping. But I had to DO it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I have put in 8 hour days. I have not posted here, I have not commented on your blogs, yesterday I didn't even read them! But I'm done. And today I'm hanging out on the computer. Tomorrow -- we get the Christmas tree!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tamale Update

We prepped and assembled about 10 dozen in four hours, not counting steaming time. (They need to steam for a couple of hours after assembly.) So I've got plenty for Christmas, AND a couple of bags for the freezer. Easy dinners, hurrah!

By the way, Andrea says she distinctly remembers that our first tamale day was in my not-yet-remodeled kitchen. Since the remodeling was done in the summer of 1993, that means this is at least our 15th year doing them. I'd say that definitely qualifies as a tradition!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tamale Day

What do you have for Christmas dinner? In some families it's set in stone. In some families it changes every year. In our family, though the side dishes may vary, the main event is tamales.

Some of you may be thinking "I didn't know she was Hispanic!" Well, I'm a nice German-Scottish girl from Pennsylvania, and my husband is a British mixture from the Midwest. But we know good food when we taste it!

One of my good friends (also of British extraction) grew up in a small town in Arizona. Two doors down was a Mexican-American family with kids about the same ages. "Andrea" remembers watching tamale making from very early on, and by the time she was in middle school. she was helping. (For any of you who don't know, tamale-making is a somewhat tedious process of preparing seasoned meat, masa dough, and softened cornhusks. Then you smear some dough on a cornhusk, add meat, roll, wrap and repeat. It is much more fun when several people talk while they work -- kind of on the quilting-bee principle.)

About fifteen years ago Andrea, who had at that time been living in Michigan for a number of years, got homesick for tamales. She remembered enough to get a close approximation, and has been tweaking the recipe ever since. But she also remembered the camaraderie of tamale-making, and asked me if I'd like to help her make a batch. We were hooked!

So for the last 13 or 14 years, one day in December has been set aside as tamale day. (They freeze beautifully.) We've gotten better at pre-prep, so it's not as tiring as it used to be. And the smell of steaming tamales has no equal. And today's the day!

(For those of you who wonder -- yes, the tamales taste authentic. We knew that for sure eight or so years ago, when one of Andrea's cousins was hosting a Mexican exchange student who hated it here. Too cold, weird food, etc., etc. But when Andrea gave him a couple of tamales, he proclaimed them "Just like abuela's!" The ultimate compliment.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Template Time

Now that I don't "have to" post every day, I'm having fun messing with the template. Eventually I'll get it the way I want, but you'll probably see lots of changes along the way. And so much cheaper than redecorating the house!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Eight Random Things

Well, it appears NaBloPoMo is going to go out, not exactly with a whimper, but not with a bang, either. I have not finished my series of posts about the life histories of my children (Mom's eye view), I have not scanned the "dancing girls" or " Katie the pirate" pictures, and I have not won any prizes, except maybe a little extra time with my granddaughter (my prize for consistent comments over at Arwen's blog), and that's only because Bryan has to travel for work, so Camilla and Arwen are coming to stay here.

But I have done what I set out to do when I signed up for this: put at least something here every day for a month. I wasn't exactly sure I had the resolve to do this. I did it! (With apologies for the days like yesterday, which netted me a [since deleted] comment-spam plugging insurance rate comparisons!) I have gained some new readers -- Hi down there in Lone Star territory! -- and some new respect for people who do stuff like this for a living. And I have gained an understanding that I can blog regularly and I will blog regularly, just not every day (at least until next November.) Heck, maybe I'll get inspired and start messing with my template (I know it's not the easiest to read.) And the kid posts and the pictures are coming!!

But today I'm going to do this meme, which Arwen did yesterday, so here are the rules.

Rules: Once tagged, you're supposed to link to the person who tagged you. Then, post the rules before your list and list 8 random things about yourself. At the end of the post, tag and link to 8 other people and then leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged.

1) I'm definitely more rule-oriented than most, but I'm doing this without being tagged and without tagging anybody. So sue me!

2) As I said in Arwen's comments,I can write upside-down, backwards, or upside-down
and backwards at almost the speed I write regularly. In legible cursive!!
(I think this indicates a twisted mind .....)

3) I like to wear shawls, ponchos, and wraps. I think this started when I was in elementary school. My mom had gone back to teaching, and my dad got her a plaid poncho to put over her coat for winter playground duty. It wasn't really her style, so I started wearing it, and still have it. For many years my winter "uniform" has been pants, a turtleneck, and a sweater or shawl. I'm wearing one right now, in blue and burgundy. We will see how this costume works with hot flashes this winter!

4) I'm a big fan of hard cider. Strongbow on tap if I can get it, but Woodchuck in a bottle will do in a pinch, especially the Granny Smith. This is fascinating to me, as I never met a beer I didn't loathe!

5) Our household has seven working computers, more if George and Maggie are home. Two networks, wired and wireless. And never mind when the married kids bring theirs. Did I tell you my husband is a computer consultant?

6) Despite those seven computers, I had to stop for a couple of hours in the middle of writing this post so that stuff could be done on "my" computer. I couldn't log in from anywhere else, because heaven help me if I mess with anybody else's settings or log ins. Did I mention my husband is a computer consultant? :-D

7) I have yet to use a name for my husband on this blog, because I thought that if you Googled his first name plus mine and Arwen's you'd get a couple of news articles about our family I know are out there. But apparently not. So from now on I will use his name, which is Roger.

8) I like to do my cooking in stages. Right now I have time to finish this because I made a turkey pot-pie this morning, shoved it in the fridge all day, and now it's in the oven and dinner will be ready in an hour. Lovely!

If you want to do this meme, feel free! You can even use my comments if you don't have a blog of your own. And I'd love to know if you are doing it at your blog.

Happy Last Day of NaBloPoMo, and see you soon!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


No, this doesn't have anything to do with my rant on health insurance. It's just a stopgap post, in case I don't get back here to scan and post pictures... my NaBloPoMo insurance!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Katie # 2 -- Stick to your Guns

One of the reasons it was so important for Katie to keep her glasses on was the great discrepancy between the vision in her good eye versus her dermoid eye. The minute she got glasses it was easy for anybody to tell that, just by looking through her lenses -- the right eye was essentially window glass, but the left eye tipped anything you looked at through it by about thirty degrees. How Dr. O could correctly choose her prescription when she couldn't say anything but "gah!" is beyond me, but he obviously knew what he was doing. But even with glasses, because one eye could see much more easily than the other, she ran the risk of developing amblyopia, in which the good eye takes over and does all the work, and the bad eye essentially goes blind even though everything works. The brain just learns to ignore the "bad" signals.

One-eyed vision has all kinds of ramifications; it means no depth perception, which can make driving impossible. (I loved the test Dr. O had to see if Katie had depth perception. It was a set of pictures [I remember specifically a very ugly bug] which were "stereoed" with the double layer plastic stuff. He would ask Katie to pick something up, and if she tried, that meant binocular vision -- depth perception. Even babies don't try to pick up flat pictures off paper!) Because Katie pulled her glasses off so much, part of her prescription was to have her right eye covered for a certain number of hours each day, forcing the dermoid eye to do all the work. This is usually done with an adhesive eye patch, but Katie (surprise!) HATED having something pasted to her face. So since her glasses were already secured to her head with Croakie and tape, we covered the right lens of her glasses instead. It was a lot easier to make sure her glasses were on than to have her constantly picking at the tape. I do have a picture of "Katie the Pirate" dressed up by her siblings and neighborhood friends. When I get time I will scan it so I can upload it for you to see.

At our very first visit with Dr. O, when Katie was two days old, he mentioned surgery to remove the dermoid. It wouldn't correct her vision, he informed us, but having it removed for cosmetic reasons would save her a lot of grief once she started school. I think he was envisioning what I call the "little kid with glasses" personality -- shy, uncertain, expecting to be teased. We have known a few of these -- one of my cousins, and a good friend of Maggie's, and some others. But the surgery would be costly, and we were between insurances when Katie was born.

[We are some of those people who contribute to the "millions of people with no health care" statistics that get bandied about, especially in election season. When you are self-employed, as my husband was by this time, you simply can't afford one of the low-co-pay, covers-everything policies that most people seem to think they deserve. Sometimes we have been without insurance, but never without health care. We just paid out of pocket. The total cost for a midwife assisted home birth was about two months premiums for the covers-everything-with-maternity-rider policy we had considered.

One of the things probably nobody considers when deciding to self-insure is the medical costs associated with a "major birth defect". We were assured that that's what Katie's dermoid was. Now we have seen major birth defects. One of Rosie's childhood pals was born with no nerves to her intestines. She has been in and out of the hospital so many times her parents have lost track, and finally a couple of years ago received a multi-organ transplant that is letting her be an almost-normal college student. Somewhere in this process she hit the lifetime limit on her parents' insurance (I think it was a million dollars) and since then has had to rely on Medicaid. But a cosmetic defect on an eye is not in that class. If we have to deal with a major defect, I'll take a dermoid.

I also don't mean to put down people with no resources, obviously. It's just that counting people like us in the statistics is cheating.]

Since we didn't have the money for the operation upfront, we asked Dr.O if postponing it was possible. He agreed that it was, and that frankly it was a rare and possibly dangerous thing (since the operation could damage the eyeball to such an extent that Katie might be blind in that eye anyway.) But he still felt that psychologically Katie would be better off having the operation before she went to kindergarten and kids started to tease her. So we kind of left it there.

Meanwhile, stubborn, opinionated, feisty Katie was growing up. She had a very independent turn of mind, and was (and is) quite self-sufficient. Once, due to a head-counting error, (we were giving our five neighbor kids a ride, along with our six) we left three-year-old Katie at church in the after-service coffee hour. When we got home (only about 7 minutes away) and discovered our mistake, we sped back, only to find Katie in conversation with somebody or other. She hadn't even noticed we were gone!

By the time she was four, and we paid one of our last visits to Dr. O, he could see it too. This kid wasn't going to be traumatized by teasing! In fact, she told us that during her first week of kindergarten some little boy said to her, in an obnoxious sort of fashion "What's that funny pink thing on your eye?" Katie looked him in the eye, (you could see this by her stance as she told the story), and gave him the four-year-old version of "It's a dermoid, idiot, want to make something of it?" As far as I know, that was the last time anybody tried teasing her about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Katie #1 -- The Eye Has It

Katie arrived on a fall afternoon, in comfortable weather, on neither a hot day like George or a cold one like Maggie. She was as determinedly (pigheadedly??) posterior as George had been, but the birth was relatively easy, because at 5 3/4 pounds she was by more than two pounds the smallest of my children, a little pipsqueak. This earned her the nickname Pippi, and I must say that in sheer individuality of personality she resembles that storied character, though her hair is a lot more manageable :-D

I was a bit worried by her tiny size, which turned out to have been caused by a medical mis-communication. I had my blood drawn at the usual time during my pregnancy, and I was mildly anemic. But the midwives filed the results and forgot to mention them, so I didn't take additional iron supplements, and so Katie didn't grow as much as she might have. She was also the earliest-born of my children, at 38 weeks. (I tend to go more like 41 or 42 weeks.) I think she just wanted to get out and get something to eat. She gained a pound by her ten-day checkup!

But the size worry was minor compared to the worry about her left eye. Shortly after she was born I was holding her, doing the bonding-and-counting-the-fingers-and-toes thing, and when when she opened her eyes I saw a big, red, bump. I asked the midwife about it, and at first she thought I was talking about a broken blood vessel on the white of the eye, which can happen during birth. But this was NOT that! She eventually called a pediatrician she was associated with, who recommended a pediatric ophthalmologist about an hour's drive away. We called, an appointment was made, and two days after giving birth I dressed myself and Katie and a friend drove us to Dr. O's office for the first time.

I can't say enough good things about Dr. O. The very first time I met him, I was sitting in an examining chair holding tiny Katie on my lap. He was very gentle with her, waiting for her to rouse a little before examining her eye. His diagnosis, which he had confirmed by one of his medical school teachers, was an epibulbar dermoid. (Actually, hers is a much brighter pink than the picture, and bigger.) In layman's terms, "epibulbar dermoid" just means "skin on the eyeball". In her prenatal development, a few skin cells that were supposed to be somewhere else grew on her eye instead. It's not dangerous, and the only real problem as Dr. O described to me, is that her cornea, which should be shaped like a slice off a ball, is shaped more like the back of a spoon instead.

This mis-shaping of her eye leads to a very severe astigmatism. The "treatment" for this problem is simply glasses, and Katie got her first pair at five and a half months! They had lenses just a little bigger than nickels, and springlike earpieces that hooked all the way around her ears, and made her look cute as a button. As long as she kept them on, of course!

When we had George after three girls, everyone told us that boys are different from girls -- which is true. What nobody told us is that girls are different from girls, too. Our first three were basically even-tempered, well-behaved, quiet little ladies. Katie is feisty! She didn't like the glasses, and it took her about a week to learn to push them off. We got a sport headband called a Croakie, tailored it to fit her tiny frames, and heaved a sigh of relief. That lasted about another week.

Eventually we wound up wrapping paper medical tape around Katie's head from under the chin to the top of her (luckily still mostly hairless) head and back down, perpendicular to the Croakie. It was odd looking, but it mostly worked. I wish I could show you a picture, but I can't find one. I know Dr. O took one for his files, because he thought it was a great solution to a problem he sees regularly. We called her out little "tape head".

Back tomorrow with Katie part 2!

Monday, November 26, 2007

George # 5 -- USCG SNET

When I posted last June about George's boot camp graduation, George was already in California attending Electronic Technician school. He had been there since ten days after boot camp, (though he managed a four day leave to be home for Christmas), but his school proper started the first week of January. Electronic technician school is one of the longest "A" schools in the Coast Guard. [An "A" school is one where the basics of some "rating" (that's a job description) are taught.] ET A-school is the equivalent of an associates' degree in electronics, without the general courses like English and history that a community college would require.

he was there until the end of July, it was not nearly as "traumatic" for me as his mother to have him most of a continent (and three time zones) away as it had been to have him three states away in boot camp. The reason is simple -- the internet. George stays logged in to Instant Messenger pretty much 24/7, and checks his email obsessively, so it was easy to just plop down at the computer and have a little chat -- and believe me, I knew when his lunch break and end of classes worked out to in my time zone! It wasn't quite as good as having him nearby, but it was more communication than I had had with any of his sisters while they were in college.[ Even when they were only 1 1/2 hours away, either I (for Arwen) or they (for Rosie and Maggie) didn't have high speed internet easily available.] So we chatted at least a couple of times a week.

And sometimes we could even do better than that. George and Arwen both have Macbook laptops, which have built in video capability. So they got in the habit of having regular video chats, especially since Camilla was born while George was in boot camp, and he didn't want to miss any more than he needed to of his niece. And eventually he bought us a web-cam as well. I mentioned in my quick post on Saturday that we were going to play Trivial Pursuit with George by video, which was great! But even more fun was watching Camilla get all excited about seeing "Crazy Uncle George", whom she clearly recognizes!

George, of course, is no longer in California. He graduated from ET school the 28th of July, which makes him a SeamaN Electronics Technician (SNET) in the US Coast Guard, hence the cryptic title of this post! He was home on leave for a little over a week, and then his dad and I helped him pack our van and his car "Fang" for the move to his first duty station in Duluth MN. Fang is a little blue 1988 Aries K which I inherited from my mother which George has driven since he got his license. Technically it was the "kids' car", but George loved it and named it -- a tradition in our family -- and had to take it with him, so he paid us for it. He even got a vanity plate that says "USCG ET". (He left off the SN because at the end of December he will be eligible for promotion to Electronics Technician third class -- ET-3.)

One of the privileges of doing well in A-school is the opportunity to have first choice of the available duty assignments. George wasn't top of his class, but he was in the top half, so the Petty Officer in charge of duty selection was very surprised when George chose Duluth. Usually Ninth District (the Great Lakes) assignments get shoved down to the bottom of the class, and several people asked George why he wanted to go where there was so much snow when warmer spots were still available. His answer: "I'd rather have snow up to my armpits than spend another winter where there isn't any!"

Duluth is a beautiful city, set on a hill side where every street has a view of the lake. George found a nice little apartment in a working-class neighborhood not far from the hospital, and his dad and I helped him settle in. He reported to his duty station, and only after a few days found out from some of the other Coasties that his place is in the "Hillside Ghetto". All I can say is that the people who decided that that was a ghetto have obviously never been anywhere near Detroit! One of the first things he did (while we were still there, and we only stayed 24 hours!) was to get broadband installed in his apartment. So we are in constant touch, and are glad to here about how well things are going for him. The guys from his unit hang out together (bowling, or eating out, or "game night"), and his workload is reasonable, except when the guys at _______ (a station about 2 hours away that his unit supports) break something again. But the best thing of all is -- he'll be home for Christmas!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Basic Post

No energy. Less time. Here you go!

Saturday, November 24, 2007


This post was supposed to be my bring-you-up-to-date on George, but since we are going to play a family game of Trivial Pursuit with him [by video-chat] in about twenty minutes, I'm going to postpone him again. I'm sure he'd rather I was there to play. I actually had this afternoon set aside for blogging, but Arwen persuaded me and Rosie to go to the movies. She wanted to see Enchanted, and I had seen a preview and also some good reviews. And it was enchanting!

It has all the stereotypical Disney fairytale stuff -- gushy love songs, handsome prince, wicked stepmother, singing animals. And so as not to spoil it for anybody, I'll only add that it also has a twist or two to the typical. But completely enjoyable and absolutely worth seeing. I give it 10 out of 10!

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm Tired

So today is the short post instead of yesterday; I was inspired by thankfulness. Today I did several loads of laundry, made cheese potatoes for a funeral lunch (my standard contribution to the committee), stripped the turkey carcass and started it simmering for stock, and finally put together a baby sweater I had started before Camilla was even born. I'll finish the edging (crochet) tomorrow. Fortunately I made it size 18 mos, but I'll have to add extra rows to the sleeves, because she got my family's incredibly long arms. Oh, yeah, and Tommy and Katie marched in the local Santa parade. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ten Things I'm Thankful For

These are not ALL the things I've been thankful for today, but they're the first ten that came into my head ...

1) That my husband understands when I forget to do something I've said I would when I'm overwhelmed with other things. This one came to me about 2:30 AM, when I woke up to go to the bathroom and realized "Oh gosh, I said I'd ........ on Wednesday, and it's already Thursday."

2) Four part harmony. Our choir sang at mass this morning, and it always makes me happy to hear the different parts fulfilling and enriching each other. A metaphor for some things in life that I would do well to remember.

3) Grandchildren. Camilla and Daniel are the cutest and sweetest little ones anywhere.

4) My turkey roaster. My husband has always done the turkey, and with the Nesco roaster I can use the oven for other things while the turkey cooks merrily away.

5) My good china. When we got married, we and most of our friends were poor, so our wedding presents were things like a handmade comforter and a big basket of kitchen staples that a bunch of people went in on. But I already had a set of very nice fine china that I'd bought at an auction sale back when I was in college in Pennsylvania. It has most things for ten people (it was originally for twelve), lots of serving pieces, and cost me $68!

6) Systemization I am an anxious person, more Martha than Mary, who tends to obsess over getting everything done. Many years back I put my standard Thanksgiving menu, shopping list, and work plan (what gets done in advance, what last-minute things come in what order) on the computer. Every year now I print a copy and follow directions. It doesn't make me stress free, but it sure helps!

7) The Internet We had a nice video-chat with George after dinner. It's so much fun to see the babies going crazy over his picture on the screen. They'll know him when he gets home!

8) Everybody will be home for Christmas Maggie flies back from Austria on Dec.18, and George and my brother "Ace" and his wife "Tink" all arrive on the 22nd. It'll be a full house, a madhouse, and just plain wonderful.

9) Pumpkin pie (and pecan, and apple, and ....) We made 6 pies for 10 people counting the babies. Pie for breakfast tomorrow!!

10) No school tomorrow! An "alarmless morning" is a rare treat. Even today I had to be up because the choir had a run-through before mass because some extra musicians were joining us. Tomorrow ... z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z.zZZ!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George #4 -- Still Stubborn

When my mom died a couple of years ago, it fell to me and the kids to clean out the house my brother and I grew up in. Although my brother lives in the same town, it wasn't practical for him to do it for two reasons: he has a full-time paying job, and he's just as much of a pack rat as Mom was. I was not at all surprised to find (along with the 37 plastic butter tubs and 53 containers from McDonalds' sweet-and-sour sauce for nuggets) all my report cards from way back when. My mom was just like that -- she saved everything. I deliberately chose to be different, and have not saved any report cards at all, even the "perfect" ones. In George's case, this is probably a good thing.

Despite George's great year in Mr. P's class, he had
not had a miraculous turn-around in his approach to school. His grades "flickered" along with his interest and motivation (which were not always the same thing.) In tenth grade World History -- a class his sisters had proclaimed "cake" -- his grades were barely passing for most of the year. A major portion of the grade for any marking period included "map work", coloring various maps in various ways with colored pencils. George saw no reason to bother. George didn't do it. George's second semester grade for classwork and tests was an E. HOWEVER. George missed exactly four questions on the final exam, thereby getting an A for the exam, bringing his average to a D, and hence passing the class. He had learned the material. He just saw no point in doing what he considered pointless busywork.

Most of George's secondary school grades were like that. His dad and I were frustrated beyond belief! We
knew he was smart and could do the work. And we knew that he wasn't a total goof off; his band teacher loved him (and gave him A's), as did his employers at his part-time job. Sometimes we wondered if they were talking about the same kid. "So helpful, so diligent, does more than he's asked, works hard." Huh??

There were two things that George remained clearly excited about. One of them was Quiz Bowl, the same academic "sport" that Arwen and Maggie loved. His poor grades his junior year caused him to lose eligibility, which was a blessing in disguise. It made him work harder his senior year so that he could play -- and graduate. The other thing that held his attention was the Coast Guard. He had been involved in the Naval Sea Cadets until his sinking grades made us force him to quit. And one of the best times of his life had been a week he spent at a nearby Coast Guard station accumulating training credit for the Sea Cadets.

The idea of enlisting in the Coast Guard was one George played with most of his life. Before his mediocre grades made it clearly impossible, he had talked about trying for an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy. So when, in the fall of his senior year, he called the recruiter and talked about enlisting, we were pleased. This was clearly something he was motivated to do. The recruiter said he'd get back to George to start setting things up, and then. . . nothing happened. After several months, George called the recruiter again, and was told "They've changed the rules. I can't even talk to you until you have you high school diploma in hand."

My husband and I were a little upset by this. George had never taken disappointment well, and we were afraid this would put an end to his interest in the Guard. And what would he do then? But we shouldn't have worried. George scraped by, got his diploma, went to the local "senior all-night party", came home, fell into bed, got up at noon and called the recruiter. He knew what he wanted, and was stubborn enough to pursue it!

I want to add here that although my husband and I were often frustrated by George's approach to academics, in other ways we were always very proud of him. As I said before, he held a long-term part-time job where they couldn't say enough good things about him. And it was always clear that he had a strong moral sense. This was demonstrated on one particular occasion by an absolute refusal to even be in the company of people he felt were "stupid." Arwen's in-laws have a lovely in-ground swimming pool which they rarely use, and to which we have a standing invitation in the summer, even when they're out of town. One such weekend we were planning on an afternoon of swimming, but when we pulled into the driveway, we could see that there were already people in the pool. George quickly identified "Sonia" (the daughter of the in-law's next door neighbors and his high school classmate) and some friends of hers. "Let's leave!" he said. "Nobody should spend any time with people like that." So we went to another friend's house on the lake. I never did get quite clear what Sonia's friends were into, but knowing George, it probably had something to do with illegal drugs or alcohol.

I'll finish up George's story on Friday. Since most of the family will be here tomorrow, you'll get a holiday post, but it'll be short. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

George #3 -- I Feel Strongly About That

When George was born, the first boy after three girls, everybody was quick to make sure we knew -- boys are different from girls! We'd had kind of an inkling that might be so, and there was certainly one way (aside from the obvious ;-D ) that we could tell right away. This was George's hair. Right from birth he had long, stiff, spiky hair. When we took him on his first outing, to our church picnic, a friend who was a hairdresser took one look and said "Oh boy, that's going to be interesting". This was at a time when rebellious teens were wearing their hair spiked high, and George looked just like them. It shouldn't surprise anybody that one of his first nicknames was "Spike".

George was never rebellious or strong-willed in the classical sense (read "bratty"), but essentially from birth it was clear that his personality matched his hair -- somewhat unruly, and with a mind of his own. He took his own sweet time about potty-training, for example, wearing diapers long after most kids his age were proud members of the "big kid club". But when he decided to do it, it was done in a week, No problems, no accidents. Done. (I am very grateful to my mother-in-law, who had seven kids in ten years, for the advice that two kids in diapers, even cloth diapers, is much easier than one in diapers and one only half potty-trained. It saved my sanity!)

It was when George went off to school that the strength of his personality became even more apparent. He is very bright, and had no trouble at all with kindergarten, since the very wise kindergarten teacher who had all six of my kids didn't expect him to be just like his quiet, compliant sisters. We did put him in afternoon kindergarten sessions, though all his sisters had been in mornings, because it was clear that he was not a morning person! Neither am I! ;-D When he got to first grade, however, things got a little more complex. The content of his work was fine, except for the handwriting issue -- he obviously inherited his handwriting skills from my father, who was notoriously illegible. But the amount of his work -- even in first grade he didn't always finish his assignments on time, or at all. His teacher (who was the same one who decided not to skip Maggie ahead) would keep him in at recess, or make him do worksheets while everybody else had free reading time. (He loves to read.) But no matter. He did what work he wanted, when he wanted to.

At the school our children attended, students in the first few grades don't receive letter grades, just plus, check, or minus, showing how well they are mastering the grade level work. Since George was smart, the only minuses he received were in Study Skills and Penmanship. But we knew, and his teachers knew, that he was not a model student.

Due to a quirk in the grade assignments of teachers, George had the same teacher for both second and third grade. She was fairly good at getting more than the minimum amount of work out of him, but he was definitely still marching to his own drummer. Then in fourth grade, through another quirk, he once again had Mrs. M., who he had had for first grade. He was maybe a little more cooperative. Fifth grade, however, was his stellar year: he was assigned to Mr. P's class.

Mr. P is an award-winning teacher favoring a very hands-on style for learning. His classroom is full of aquariums and cages and models of this and that. For the traditional school Halloween parade each year, his whole class dresses as something educational. One year they were all Bob the Builder carrying pictures of simple machines. George's year they were all Statues of Liberty, with robes and foam crowns and torches, each carrying a copy of a Constitutional amendment. George loved Mr. P's class.

Aside from the good fit in learning styles, Mr. P had another attraction for George -- he had been in the Coast Guard. My husband came to our town when he was stationed here in the Coast Guard -- we have both a land station and a cutter assigned to this very boat-oriented area -- and although he was no longer a "Coastie" by the time we met, some of our friends were former shipmates of his and their families, and "Dad's time in the Guard" was a frequent and always fascinating topic at our house. And one of George's favorite toys as a preschooler was a model Coast Guard cutter, with sailors in life jackets, and radar antennas, and a small boat to lower.

So whether it was the Coast Guard connection, or just a good match of styles, George did well in Mr. P's class. So well, in fact, that he was co-winner of the coveted Science Award at the fifth grade graduation. We heaved a sigh of relief; George had found his academic niche.

Monday, November 19, 2007

George #2 -- Back to the Beginning

Although I posted a little bit about George back when I was sporadically writing here about a year ago, this systematic trip through the brief biographies of my children sort of requires going back to the beginning.... so here goes.

The summer I was pregnant with George -- 1988 -- was the hottest summer I can recall. Temperatures were routinely in the mid nineties, and the humidity was fierce. And I was due in the middle of August. Arwen was about to turn six, Rosie was four and a half, and Maggie was pushing 18 months. We were hoping for a boy, but another girl would be just fine. What was not just fine was where this baby was hanging out: head up, in a breech position. We were planning another home birth, and although the midwives were OK with delivering breech babies, they are less than pleasant for Mom, and sometimes a little scary. So the prescription was: let's turn this baby. Which meant that I spent ten minutes of every hour with my hips higher than my head.

How this worked out in practice was simple. I made a nice pile of pillows for my head, aimed a fan to be blowing on me, (no air conditioning), and lay down with my head on the pillows and my hips on the couch. I say "lay down", but it really felt like I was hanging there. Hot and sweaty, upside down, and trying to take care of three little girls. I tried to minimize the disruption by doing two ten minute stints consecutively. I did odd hours at the end, and even hours at the beginning, so 20 minutes upside down and then 100 minutes to do everything else that needed doing, rinse and repeat.

After I'd been at this for about three weeks, I was taking a Sunday afternoon rest (not upside-down) when I felt what can only be described as the baby doing some major thrashing around. I was hopeful , and my next visit confirmed it -- the baby was now head down. Of course, being the non-compliant sort, he had chosen a posterior presentation, but that was still better than breech.

So I went back to doing my sweating in a more-or-less upright position, and waited. Our seventh anniversary was just around the corner (eight days before Arwen's birthday), and we thought we might go somewhere air-conditioned to celebrate. But on the morning of our anniversary, we woke up to temperatures only in the seventies -- which felt positively chilly -- and to the certainty that I was in labor.

It was early labor, and I tend to have slow ones, so I did a lot of walking, all over the neighborhood. Compared to both my last labor hike in a blizzard and the sweltering we'd just been doing, the whole thing was amazingly comfortable, contractions and all.

By early evening I was in active labor, and the midwives had arrived. Thing were moving right along. But George, being his own stubborn self, refused to add another to my string of birthday baby, Valentine baby, anniversary baby, NOT. He arrived 15 minutes after midnight, our first boy, on a day all his own.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maggie # 4 -- High School and Beyond

By the time Maggie reached eighth grade, she had taken all the math her middle school offered. (After she learned pre-algebra on her own, they decided to let her take eighth grade algebra in seventh grade; none of the other parents could complain that their child was "just as ready".) Since the high school day started almost an hour and a half before the middle school, they signed her up for geometry at the high school, and every morning she went to school with Rosie. After her first-hour geometry class, I picked her up and drove her the two miles to the middle school. Two miles by road, that is. As the crow flies it would have been less than half a mile back door to back door, but since our town is on the water, there is a nice big canal in the way, and you have to cross where the bridges are. So instead of being able to let her walk in nice weather, I went to school every day. Two schools, as a matter of fact.

Taking geometry before freshman year was a blessing in disguise to Maggie, since it meant that she was able to take second year algebra and trigonometry as two separate classes. For some reason lost in the mists of time, at my children's high school students on track for taking calculus are encouraged to take what's called "Three/Four--Trig", that is, a whole year of each crammed into one academic year. But that would have had Maggie taking calculus as a sophomore, and leaving her with only Statistics available for the next two years. And if she had decided she wanted more advanced math, the school district would have been forced to pay her costs at the local community college. So she was required to take a full year of each, moving at a slower pace. Since she took a rigorous academic load all four years, and unfortunately has inherited/acquired my tendency toward perfectionism, having "easy" classes requiring reduced effort was good for her!

Remember that all this time Maggie was taking dance lessons, including the crazy "year of the scholarship". She also had discovered in herself a passion for leadership/politics and was very active in the Student Council, serving as president her senior year. And she competed on the school's Quiz Bowl team, which was good enough to take part in the state tournament all the years she played. S
enior year she was co-captain.* Our whole family has been actively involved in the pro-life movement since Rosie was a baby, and Maggie and her best friend "Jo" decided to sponsor a display of "the crosses", one white cross for every two babies killed in the US by abortion each day. (These are links to articles about similar displays.) They did all the planning and arranging for permission, rounded up the voulunteers, and made it happen. The only adult participation was that her Dad and I did the driving to pick up and drop off the crosses on days when Maggie and Jo were in school.

Summers probably were a big relief for Maggie; a slowing down of the rigorous pace she set for herself. The summer between her junior and senior years, she attended the same summer session at Christendom College that Rosie had. To no one's surprise, she had a marvelous time, including making several new friends with whom she has maintained contact, and came back with the distinct intention of going to Christendom for college.

I don't mean to imply that she didn't like Rosie and Arwen's school (Arwen had transferred to Rosie's tiny college in the middle of her [first] junior year.) But the school was changing. As Arwen described in Rosie and Anthony's story, a new campus had opened in Florida; far away and ever more expensive. But after changing her mind about a thousand and one times (or was that a thousand and two), Maggie decided to go to college in Florida. I could give you reasons, but I simply don't know which one persuaded her to finally commit!

Maggie has spent two years at the Florida campus, doing very well academically (she was able to take an invitation-only humanities seminar), and being terribly homesick. Arwen and Bryan donated some frequent-flyer miles so that she could come home more often. But she's gotten a little more used to being away from us -- right now she's attending her school's "semester abroad" session in Austria, and having an over-all good time. Of course email and IM help, and it doesn't hurt at all that her techie brother George managed to set it up so that we can phone her dorm by phoning a number in our area code. Three cheers for Skype!

Maggie will be home a week before Christmas, and we are looking forward to it mightily! Something is lacking in our family when she isn't home. I miss you, Valentine Girl!

*Arwen was also quiz bowl captain as a senior. When I someday get around to writing "Mom's eye" posts about her I'll talk about it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Semi-CopOut Photo Post

I would plead that time got away from me again, but considering how long it took me to get this posted. . .

This summer our family was only all together for about a week, while George was on leave between his Electronics Technician school, and his reporting to his duty station in Duluth. But while he was home, we managed to get to one of our favorite places, the swinging bridge. It's located in a town about a half hour drive from here, with a town in between that has a lovely beach, and a long jetty to walk out on around the harbor. This picture was taken at the end of the bridge, which dangles on cables down and to the right.

I know you'll want labels, so from left to right: Rosie holding Daniel, me, Anthony, Bryan holding Camilla, Tommy, DH and George in back, and Maggie, Arwen, and Katie in front. Enjoy!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Technology Bites!

This was supposed to be my next post about Maggie, but it is now 10:30 PM my time, and this is the first time I've had access to "my" computer all day. This morning after the kids were off to school, my DH said to me "I need to shut your computer down for a little while." Uh, OK, I was just using it, but you are the techie around here, so I guess that I need to let you do that, and anyway this computer is paid for by your business, so OK. I will just write my post later this morning.

Morning turned into afternoon, "fixing one thing" turned into reinstalling the operating system AND all my word processing tools (which aren't back yet, so DON'T LOSE THIS POST, BLOGGER!!) (Sometimes you just have to yell!) By the time it was reasonably workable again, it was after supper, and time to leave to attend Katie's play (You Can't Take It With You -- it was a blast.) When we finally got home, I "had" to fix a few things first, like my instant messaging so that I can talk to George, and my special background so that I don't have to look at that boring blue, and ...

So this time I won't make any promises except that something will go up here tomorrow, even if it's only a Luddite tirade about the machines, and what they do to us......

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Dear Husband!

Was up at 5:45 to finesse birthday call for husband from daughter (Maggie) in Austria.
Will be babysitting Camilla tonight while Arwen and Bryan go to Katie's play. Did major grocery shopping in between. Posting tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dancing Girls #2

I need to make a slight correction to yesterday's post -- part of the reason Rosie stopped taking ballet was that she hated pointe. Not that I can blame her; toe shoes look lovely, but have you ever tried a pair? Hard and uncomfortable! And Rosie was just a little too early for the technological breakthrough that made Maggie's life easier -- gel pads. Arwen and Rosie had to struggle with itchy, fluffy lambswool to protect their toes. Maggie got gel pads!

Which was a good thing, or she might not have any toes left! When she won that scholarship, we were excited. We thought that meant she got a class free. Boy were we wrong -- it was a full year's FREE RIDE; all the classes she wanted, and nothing to pay but costume fees. So for her junior year she wound up taking ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, lyrical, a solo class, Irish (hard and soft shoe), and a special sisters deal where Arwen and Rosie came home from college once a month to do a class with her. (Of course they paid for their share in the class -- Arwen was married by then.) And also the thing that made the whole thing a pain: dance team.

Although "our" dancing school had not had a competitive team while Arwen and Rosie were there, the owners had decided/(felt pressured by the other dance schools in town?) to start competitive teams for all ages. They had done OK, but most of the older girls had decided the team competitions took too much time from the rest of their lives. (This was a school where dance was about having fun.) But since Maggie had the scholarship, and was now one of the "older girls", it was made clear that she really should be on the competitive team. Which had a lot of meets. On Sundays. All over the map. The worst weekend was the one where Maggie and I attended Katie's confirmation at 5 PM on a Saturday, got in the car and drove for six hours, checked into our hotel after midnight, and were up again by six to be at the competition site before seven for "floor time". She competed all day, (four dances including her solo), hung around for the awards (not optional), got back in the car at 9PM, and drove home. Fortunately, Maggie could sleep in the car, as she had school the next day. But since I was driving, I very carefully nursed a Mountain Dew all the way home, knowing I wouldn't sleep when I got there because I am extremely caffeine sensitive. And I didn't make pit stops; there's something about a slightly overfull bladder that's helpful for keeping awake on the freeway at 2 AM!

So despite choosing dance to avoid Sunday conflicts, we spent a year dealing with them. It wasn't a bad year; at the recital that spring it was fun to have a daughter in practically every other dance. Katie was also in the Irish classes, plus tap. And it was nice to see Arwen and Rosie performing one more time. Maggie had fun, I know, although due to a problem with scheduling the order of dances in the recital, she had two back-to-back. The school owner/emcee wound up in front of the curtain making some kind of announcement while four of us were (barely) backstage changing Maggie's costume from hard shoe Irish to jazz, and telling her to breathe. Thank God for black leotards that can go under everything, and convertible tights!

Maggie took fewer classes her senior year (definitely quitting the competitive team!), but was at the school almost as much, since she paid for some of the classes by teaching beginners. Her final recital was bittersweet; the era of the dancing girls was almost over. And although Katie took lessons for another year, she was so busy with her other interests that she missed a lot of classes, and and we jointly decided not to sign her up again. When I called the school owner [who had been a student, the daughter of a teacher, from back when we started at the school] to tell her that, we both cried. Twenty years is a lot of history!

So the era of the dancing girls came to an end. I'm hoping that someday my granddaughters will dance, so that I can go to recitals without any responsibilities, but since Arwen's Camilla is my only one so far, and she's not walking yet, I guess I have a while to wait!

Note to Anthony: I really wouldn't mind if my grandSONS danced too. The athleticism of Irish is NOT effeminate! :-D , and you know I love you!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dancing Girls #1

No, not that kind of "dancing girls"! Give yourself a little smack on the head from me! It's just that in reading over my last few posts, I realized that I've inadvertently given you the wrong idea about Maggie -- that she's simply all brains. And nothing could be further from the truth. She is also blonde ponytail bouncing, and blue eyes, and terrific hugs, and, along with her three sisters, one of my dancing girls. (See?!)

When Arwen was a preschooler, lots of our friends were signing their kids up for gymnastics. It was a fun activity, and Arwen might have loved it, but as we looked at the older girls we knew who were involved, it became quite clear; this was not for us. The minute a kid was even slightly past the beginner stage, there were gymnanastics meets -- on Sunday. Sometimes every Sunday for weeks on end. And although we're not legalistic about Sunday (we might buy a few urgent school supplies, or go to a movie, or eat out), we believe that something that regularly comes before church and family stuff is probably not a good idea.

A couple of my husband's sisters had really enjoyed and benefited from ballet lessons when they were younger. One of them managed to avoid hip surgery that way! And I had gone through a period of reading ballet stories avidly; there was never a chance of my taking lessons, since there were no schools in the area while I was growing up. But there was a dancing school almost right around the corner from us now -- two blocks down and three over. So we signed Arwen up for beginner ballet. Rosie followed her the next year, and Maggie two years after that.

By this time, we were starting to learn that we had been lucky, or blessed, in our choice of a dancing school. Some schools, we found, focus heavily on technique. Some focus on competitive teams (more about that later). And some, like the one we found, center on learning some dance and having fun doing it. Our girls (Katie joined in when she was old enough) all thrived there.

I said that we signed Arwen up for ballet. There were lots of other options: tap (the old-fashioned chorus-line kind), jazz, lyrical, even jazznastics and baton twirling. But ballet is the basis for lots of the others, and we already knew that with the large family we were planning, budget was going to be a consideration. So we had a whole flock of baby ballerinas. (And we still have the costumes to prove it!)

Another thing that we learned about dancing schools is that (something like non-denominational churches), they are constantly in transition. An owner decides that she's tired of running the school, but she still wants to teach. Another owner buys the up-for-sale school, and discovers that the teachers at the new school don't like her style or focus. The aforesaid teachers pool their resources and buy out the new owner. The school grows, and has to move to bigger quarters. One of the co-owners gets a too-good-to-pass-up offer to teach at a rival school with a different focus, that wants to add her specialty. Two teachers with a different specialty leave THAT school and come to this one. And so forth. All of this, and more, actually happened in the 20 years we had girls in dance, from the time Arwen was four to the end of Katie's sophomore year in high school.

Arwen, Rosie, and Maggie were all very good at ballet. Katie, when she was smaller, not so much. She has a different approach to life, and after two years pleaded with us to switch her to jazznastics, which was bouncier. Meanwhile, Rosie and Arwen were growing and progressing, and with a sigh, we added pointe to the classes we would pay for. What mother doesn't want to see her daughter in toe shoes? We also broke down enough to suggest that they could take tap, if they managed to pay for it themselves.

At the end of Arwen's sophomore year in high school, she decided that ballet was lower on her priority totem pole than some of her other activities. This choice was encouraged by the fact that "our" dancing school was undergoing another of those changes. And we had already given in to Rosie's request that we let her take tap instead of ballet, a decision fueled by the fact that there were no other ballet students of her skill level in her age group. But Maggie wanted to dance!

Maggie was already taking ballet and pointe, and there was the "Junior Ballet Troupe" (really lyrical) that was free except for the costume if you were taking other lessons. (She had taught herself basic tap from watching other people's lessons while waiting around at the school during her sisters' lessons.) Somehow Rosie talked us into letting her have lyrical as well, since we weren't paying for pointe because she was no longer taking ballet. And suddenly this dance thing was growing out of hand.

So Rosie took two classes a year until she graduated from high school. Katie had switched to tap by this time. And Maggie, who had just finished her freshman year, wanted more. I believe she talked us into one extra class (tap?) because our total bill would be less than it was the year before, since Rosie was now off to college. Whichever class it was, she did really well. Well enough that at the end-of-year recital she was awarded the dancing school's yearly scholarship.

Once again I need to stop here, or nobody will get dinner! See you here tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Maggie #3 -- School Daze

So Maggie breezed her way through elementary school. Her first grade teacher found her so academically advanced that there was actually consideration of skipping her ahead a grade. I was just talking to Mrs. M. (who is still a friend) last week, and thanked her one more time for NOT doing so. She had carefully observed Maggie on the playground, and felt that she was such a typical first grader socially that it would be a shame to put her in second grade and make her both odd for her brains and odd for her age. So Maggie sailed along, loving school when her teacher was a good fit, and not so much when the assignment was unfortunate. (Mrs. S., her fourth grade teacher, was a disaster for Maggie; she was great with slow learners, but hadn't a clue how to challenge this phenomenon.)

Whenever Maggie was bored or unhappy in school, she would let me know by asking "Why can't I be homeschooled?" A number of her friends and relatives were being taught at home -- some with more success than others -- and she figured that this was the solution to whatever problem she was having. Now I have nothing against homeschooling, as long as the parents are well enough educated to pass on what they know. I know of one particular little boy (now a college grad) for whom it was a godsend. "DJ" was a very active child, and he thrived learning his multiplication tables while standing on his head, which his mother could allow but a teacher certainly couldn't. On the other hand, in another homeschooling family the mother can't write a coherent paragraph -- how could she teach her children?

I like to believe that I am literate (and numerate!) enough to teach my children, at least everything but specialized science. But I am and was NOT a good fit for homeschooling Maggie. Of all my children, she and I have the most disparate personalities AND learning styles. We would not have survived two weeks of homeschooling. Even when she was in elementary school, there were times when my homework help was "wrong." Fortunately, we live in an area where our assigned schools at all levels were above average, and when the teacher fit was good Maggie did well. Also fortunately, she was able to learn more things than reading on her own. Although both Arwen and Rosie had taken advanced math in sixth grade, pre-algebra in seventh grade and algebra in eighth grade, by the time Maggie got to middle school the advanced math had been eliminated. And Maggie was already completely competent at the ordinary sixth grade math.

There was a brief suggestion that she be allowed to take math with a seventh grade class, which was squelched by the school when other parents started to complain that their children should have seventh grade math too. So Maggie was given a pre-algebra book, sat in the back of the sixth grade class, and taught herself pre-algebra. The seventh grade teacher made out assignments for her, and would check her work once a week and give her quizzes and tests. I don't remember her asking for help even once. The result? Straight A's, and algebra in seventh grade. (The teacher couldn't quite believe she was doing this on her own. He asked us several times, and her repeatedly, whether her parents were helping with her math. Nope.)

This post is going to be continued tomorrow, because my kitchen still needs to be deep cleaned, and Rosie isn't here to help. I can only stall for so long, no matter how great the alternative activity is!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Maggie #2 -- Speaking Up

Maggie's early verbal prowess proved to be NOT a fluke, or a proud parent's exaggeration.. She continued acquiring vocabulary at phenomenal rate; as a third child, she doesn't have a baby book,( :-( ) but there are memories that stand out. When she was about 16 months old, several of us neighborhood moms, with assorted children, were standing around the above-ground swimming pool that one family was installing. Maggie, growing bored with the view available at ground level, toddled over to me and said "Pick me up!" One of the other moms, whose daughter was just Maggie's age, was flabbergasted. But I remember that as typical.

By the time George was born (Maggie was 18 months), she was indulging in preschool level conversations. One of her favorite words was "mockingbird", from the song Hush, Little Baby. And she was perfectly capable of trying to persuade you that she didn't need to do whatever it was that she'd been told to do. I'm not a particular fan of baby sign, but it was certainly true that Maggie mostly avoided the "terrible twos" simply because she could communicate well.

Because of her verbal precocity, Maggie always got along well with adults and older children. How could anyone resist a four-year-old who asks for help with a task "because I don't think I'm competent to do this"? Unfortunately, some of of her siblings and close friends thought she talked almost too much. Somewhere along the line she acquired the nickname "Mouthy Maggie,"* which usually made her cry.

Early reading and writing went along with her early talking. She had a library card, proudly inscribed with her own name, a month before she turned four. And I don't think anybody ever actually taught her to read; certainly she was reading before kindergarten. As with spoken language, she just soaked it up like a sponge.

This did lead to some interesting struggles. Since she was reading far above her age level, she would regularly come across words she had never heard spoken. And her innate sense of phonics meant that she would sometimes use a word she'd learned by reading which wasn't pronounced quite the way she'd figured it out. The most memorable of these (and sorry, Maggie, I made too big a deal out of it at the time) was JAY-nine. She'd been reading Babysitters Club books, and one of the main characters has an older sister named Janine, which is usually pronounced Ja-NEEN. Maggie had never heard the name, and using impeccable logic, decided it must be pronounced like canine.

We laughed way too hard at her. Because despite her exceptional verbal skills (and overall intelligence), Maggie also had an intense inner drive to do "it" -- life -- perfectly. Some of this is inborn personality, but some of it was fostered by me. I grew up in a home where nothing I did was ever quite "good enough" -- (You graduated cum laude? I was expecting a magna at least.) I was aware of this problem, and even understood some of the forces that shaped my parents to be that way. I meant to not pass it on to my children, and truly tried, but the tendency was bigger than I understood, and sensitive Maggie was the most vulnerable to it. Sorry, sweetheart!

*This is a rendition of the actual nickname based on her real name, which I don't use in this blog. The actual nickname doesn't have quite the disrespectful connotation that "Mouthy" does.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Maggie #1 -- She's My Valentine!

Rosie is my birthday present, but Maggie is my Valentine. Of course her dad is too, but I met him in the spring, we fell in love in the fall, and got married in the summer, so Valentine's Day was just something we passed through, not significant like it was for my older daughters. But Maggie was born on Valentine's Day!

It was not, of course, the most lovely Valentine's Day I've ever had. Quite apart from my being in labor all day, there was a blizzard going on outside. I was aware of this because Maggie, unlike her older sisters, was born at home. The midwife and my support people were there, but things were progressing rather slowly. In a hospital they'd just start a pitocin drip, but at home -- It's time to go for a walk. In the blizzard. I had to get out of my nice flannel nightie, put on clothes and boots (boots!) and bundle up in my big heavy woolen cape, scarf, and mittens and walk! We made it all the way to the corner and back (about 2 blocks each way), a contraction about every thirty steps --hang on to husband and breathe --and it must have done the trick, because not too much later Maggie arrived. My Valentine!!!

She was beautiful, and her sisters loved her immediately. Unfortunately she had a few uncomfortable days -- somehow, in the "oh, yes, I know all about this nursing stuff, and it's so easy" I had forgotten that fed babies also need to be burped! Once we got that out of the way, she was MUCH happier.

Although I already had two bright and gorgeous little girls, we could tell almost immediately that this one was something out of the ordinary. From very early on we would set Maggie, in her infant seat, on the kitchen table while the rest of the family was eating. (Arwen was 4 1/2, Rosie was 3.) And by 4 months or so, Maggie was making it clear that what we were doing there was interesting. And she would like to participate too, thankyouverymuch! So in order to eat in peace, we started handing her a cracker. (I know Ritz crackers aren't a recommended first solid, but they were handy, and they worked.) Maggie gumming a cracker became a common sight.

Two or so months later, (Maggie was 6 1/2 months old), a teenaged friend was over to use some of our reference books. Jenny and the older girls were having some kind of a snack. I was changing Maggie's diaper, and as she watched them from the changing table, that "me, too" light was in her eye. I said "Maggie, would you like a cracker?" Her face lit up, and with a big smile, she proclaimed "CA-cuh!" Jenny nearly fell over. But yes, Maggie really said it. And she's been amazingly verbal ever since.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rosie # 5 -- Daniel James!!

Rosie and Anthony moved into a tiny little apartment; a "student apartment" that was 1/4 of a very oddly divided old creaky house near Midsized-University. Rosie continued with her senior year at Tiny-Catholic-College. And at Thanksgiving they had an annoucement -- grandbaby #1 was on the way!

This was difficult for Arwen, who was still struggling with infertility, but the rest of us were delighted. Rosie, unfortunately, was also nauseated. Badly, most of the time, and for a long time. How she managed that with classes, I can't imagine. But eventually she felt better, and in early May we attended her graduation. The baby was due in early July, and since Anthony had changed from "self-employed landscape contractor" to "valued sales employee of large software firm" and was now making more money, they started looking for a larger apartment. And, oh, yeah, now that she was out of college Rosie might start thinking about childbirth classes, because she'd been too busy before.

The hospital where her obstetrician (who was also by this time Arwen's obstetrician, hurrah!) practices has regular tours for prospective parents and their support people. Since I have six kids, have been there at the births of several friends babies, and at one time read almost obsessively on the subject of childbirth, Rosie signed me up to take the tour with them in mid-June (which I figured was cutting it a little close, but she was a grown married woman now....). But before our scheduled tour date, and five weeks before the due date, our phone rang early one morning. Rosie's water had broken, they were at the hospital, and today was going to be the day.

I flung some clothes into a suitcase, braved the rush hour traffic between me and them, and found my way to the OB floor. Rosie was not in much pain yet, but a little scared, and definitely unprepared -- she and Anthony had never gotten to any classes, and she was only 2/3 of the way through the book she had decided to read instead! Fortunately, she's the kind of person who listens to authority (OK, in this case me), and also fortunately, her labor was much shorter than it could have been, because I was able to successfully coach her, step by step, until just after noon, a tiny but gorgeous little guy arrived. Daniel James! They hadn't told anyone what names they were considering, and had chosen not to know whether he was a boy or a girl(although Arwen had seen the ultrasound.) I thought both he, and his name, were perfect.

Although Daniel is now 17 months old, that time has gone by like the wind! Rosie and Anthony are excellent parents. They have moved twice since Daniel was born (once to that bigger apartment, and recently to their own house). We see them quite regularly, here and there, and it was pure delight to have Rosie and Daniel here for part of this week while Anthony is in Hawaii on business. Anthony and Daniel will each get their own series of posts later, but for tomorrow -- on to Maggie!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rosie # 4 -- The College Years

Prefatory Note; It is true that I said "Let's do the laundry room today" to Rosie. On the other hand, she is so beautifully enthusiastic about cleaning -- which was not a trait of her high school years! -- that I would have felt like a slacker if I'd decided to NOT clean yesterday. But the HS conferences were more tiring than I remembered. The good news is that you can now see ALL of my laundry room/pantry floor except the parts that are actually under furniture and appliances. No more boxes! That's a 50% gain in floor space!

After back-and-forthing and applying to several schools, Rosie finally settled on a college: Tiny Start-Up Catholic School in Ypsilanti. This had a number of advantages over Christendom -- nearer by a factor of about 6, cheaper by a factor of about four, and within drop-in range of the Major School campus apartment that Arwen and Bryan would be living in after they got married that summer. The (minor) disadvantage was that most meals were not provided. The students got five dinners a week at the Midsized-University-in-Ypsilanti right next door, but for breakfast, lunch, and weekends, they were on their own. Fortunately, their dormitory buildings were actually reasonably nice apartment buildings which the college had bought, so each set of three or four roommates had a full, functional kitchen.

It was interesting to see what Rosie and her new roommates considered necessary for a kitchen, and even more interesting to see what kind of things they planned to eat. Rosie, being my daughter, had a serious stockpile that included a #10 can of nacho cheese (to be eaten on baked potatoes as well as with chips.) Others had a selection of dollar store goodies. And the fourth roommate had to buy everything after she arrived, since she was an international student from Ukraine, who found all our food odd indeed, but habit-forming.

Rosie had not been at college very long when Fall Parents' Weekend rolled around. My husband and I went for the weekend, spending Friday night at Arwen and Bryan's tiny apartment. On Saturday morning, we got up and had berakfast with them, and then headed over to Rosie's campus for morning mass. I don't really have much memory of all that; what I do remember is being out in the hallway after mass. Rosie was introducing us to various people, most of whom have gone from my mind, but when she said "Mom and Dad, this is Anthony.", something I can only call "Mom-radar" went off. I knew that there was going to be something significant about Anthony. And I was certainly right. If you've read my earlier posts and followed the links you know they they were married in the summer after her junior year. Arwen tells it better than I have time to, so go read it there.

Tomorrow I'll bring you all the way up to date on Rosie.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cleaning Redux

Today she talked me into doing the laundry room / pantry. Also, I had conferences at Katie and Tommy's high school. Tomorrow I will be GLAD to sit still and write a real post!.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Rosie is visiting with Daniel. We decided to deep-clean the living room. No time to post more -- hope this counts!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rosie #3 -- Christendom

Sometime during Rosie's junior year in high school, we began to notice ads in the assortment of intellectual-Catholic-nerd magazines -- Crisis, First Things, Catholic World Report -- that littered our house (and still do!) for a two-week summer high school college/camp program at Christendom College in Virgina. That is a good long way from where we live now, but only about an hour-and-a-half drive from the small town in Pennsylvania where I grew up. Rosie had been in the area several times and liked it, AND there was enough discretionary money available for the cost. (When your husband is self-employed, discretionary money comes and goes on an unpredictable schedule.) Rosie thought maybe she'd like to go, so we sent off her registration. I think she was ambivalent right up until she got on the plane, but that didn't last long!

We really missed Rosie at home, but the two weeks went by quickly, and my husband and I picked her up at the airport. (Ah, for the days when you could meet people at the gate! :-\ ) She was tired but bubbly, and it soon became clear that the bubbles were from an interior change. You can call it a conversion experience, or a light bulb moment, or just a chance to get away from home and look at things from a new angle. Whatever you call it, it was no longer difficult for her to stay away from negative "friends", or get out the door to mass on time, or be generous with her time and energy for the family. (She's always been generous with her "stuff", and I don't mean she wasn't cheerful before, only that now it was even more noticeable.) And she had a definite plan -- she wanted to go to college at Christendom.

Arwen had applied to a varied list of schools, but wound up attending Major University in Ann Arbor, mostly because Bryan was there, although at this point she was just coming off a breakup with him (for the full story, see here. Rosie, though, thought she was sure now where she wanted to go. BUT, and these are big buts: it was far away (for Rosie, who's a homebody), it was expensive, and they tell you right up front that most financial aid is for freshmen only. Get in, get hooked, and get into enormous debt! So we suggested that maybe she should check into other options as well. And that's tomorrow's story.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Time Out

I know I said that today's post would be more about Rosie, but since this plan of telling about my kids in turn is totally my choice, it's my prerogative to change it!

Today is a beautiful, sunny late autumn day. The leaves outside my window are mostly gold, with a little reddish-orangish-brownish and still a little green. I am glad of this, because I can enjoy the colors, but I am a little bit sorry the leaves are still on the trees, because this is the week when the city's big noisy leaf-vacuuming trucks will pass through our neighborhood, removing the mountain of leaves we have already raked to the curb, but totally unable to suck the rest of them off the trees. This means that when they do finally fall, we will not only have to rake them, but also figure out what to DO with them. The city does technically come around twice, but our first week was three weeks ago, when ALL the leaves were still attached to the trees, and most of them were still green.

I am talking about the beauty of the day here a little wistfully, because once I have finished this post I will not be able to go back outside and enjoy it. I have taken my obligatory exercise walk, where stopping and admiring the trees is counterproductive, but a stroll just for beauty is out of the question. Instead I will be hunched over my sewing machine producing a drama costume for Katie. At least I was able to get the fabric very cheaply -- it was Halloween "costume satin" marked down to almost nothing. I'm glad I can make her a costume that fits (she's taller than the average, and none of the stuff the drama club has in storage remotely fits.) But I'd rather be kicked back enjoying the day.

See you all tomorrow!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Rosie #2 -- Growing

So there was Rosie, with a little ocean-wave of hair down the middle of her head, turning Arwen into a big sister. And they LOVED being sisters right away. I can remember stepping into the (tiny) living room from the (even tinier) kitchen, and seeing two-year-old Arwen sitting on six-month-old Rosie's tummy bouncing up and down! But before I could put and end to this obvious demonstration of sibling rivalry, I realized -- Rosie was laughing!! She thought this was fun. Of course I persuaded Arwen to entertain the baby a little less physically, but there's really been no change; the both LOVE each other's company. In fact, as you can gather from reading Arwen's blog, they even now, as married women, live only about 5 miles from each other. Rosie's husband "Anthony" is from Idaho, and his whole enormous extended family lives there, but he knew thew was no hope of taking Rosie that far from Arwen. (Besides, he likes it here :-) )

Rosie has always been the most photogenic of my children, mostly because she is the one who looks most like my husband's side of the family. (If you want some idea, go see her wedding pictures on Arwen's blog!) And her personality has been as pretty as her face. I don't remember fighting much with her, either, except about keeping her room clean. But she was the first of our children to be grounded, after breaking the city curfew with friends (she was at an approved sleepover, but they decided to go to the store, and then to the waterfront, where they got noisy) and wound up having to call home from the police station. At four AM. Luckily my husband is an early riser and was semi-conscious, but it was a big shock. Arwen never got into trouble!

Fortunately, the cure for this trouble was as simple as avoiding some less-than-helpful "friends". I'm not sure what Rosie thought about this, as I never asked her, but she was obedient, and anyway, she was about to have a pivotal change in her way of thinking. But that's tomorrow's post.