Monday, September 28, 2009

Check Out This Bad Boy

This big ugly is called a Hubbard Squash. It's bigger than my butt two basketballs and heavier than my twins.

I had the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted last fall at the Warrior Run Heritage Festival, and was very surprised when they told me it wasn't pumpkin. I can't even describe how it was better. Just try it if you have the opportunity. Recipes are here or here.

Added bonus: the seeds are about four times bigger than pumpkin seeds and totally yummy. I roasted mine with salt and I can't stop eating them, but that's cool because pumpkin seeds are rich in MUFAS (monounsaturated fatty acids)!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Theresa, your birthday's coming up. We need to take a nice photo of you for the birthday page in the newspaper.
Your hair still looks so pretty from your haircut this afternoon; c'mon and I'll take your picture.

Don't tilt your head, honey. I need a straight-up picture.

Okay, I get it, you look cute. Stop tilting your head.

Very nice. I should submit THAT one to the newspaper. Oh, and there's a hair in your face.

Where did you get that? Put that down! Very funny. And that hair's still in your face.

This will do very nicely. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Only by the Grace of God

One of these days I'm going to have to blog about how many times I've almost accidentally set this house on fire during the 15 months we've lived here (hint - at least four). Today is not that day, but it's close!

Today is about those nagging feelings that just won't go away, which I believe is the voice of the Holy Spirit or a Guardian Angel trying to guide me in right paths. There are so many examples in my life of when I followed the promptings of that voice and was rewarded in some way, and the other times when I disregarded the voice and later came to regret it. It's about all those times when seemingly insignificant pieces of the puzzle all come together to reveal the fingerprints of God guiding my life.

Take today, for instance. It's a gorgeously warm day for fall - in the 80s again after a week of cool and damp. We got off to a later start than I'd hoped due to a late night, and I didn't even bother starting school with any of the kids because I had to take 13yo Brian to a doctor appointment at 10:00, which really chops up the continuity of the day. I grabbed Brian's vocabulary book, left the other school kids with some loose instructions, and headed out the door without breakfast (or coffee).

I need to add here that Brian hasn't been wearing his glasses for about a week, and it's really been difficult for him to read. Trying to look up his vocabulary words in the dictionary with microscopic print was next to impossible. He said he had no idea where his glasses could be. I had an inkling of where to find them (on the third floor, in the rec room, on the large table on which Scott and I built a thousand-piece puzzle in two hours a few nights ago - which was another late night, but it was good to spend time with him :-)

Needless to say, when the appointment ended an hour later I was in serious need of nourishment. When we got back home, when Brian asked me what's next for school, I replied, "Lunch!" I made a cheesesteak with salsa for myself. He grabbed frozen hamburger patties, thousand island dressing, and an onion, and went upstairs to the other kitchen on the third floor to make himself a homemade big mac.

We spent the next two hours on the first floor, doing schoolwork. And we picked up the vocab book again. After struggling with the dictionary for a few words, I just felt at that particular moment the compulsion to go look for his glasses. So I headed upstairs to look.

My first impression was that the rec room, which is usually cool, was unusually warm. But it's unusually warm and sunny outside, so no biggie. My second thought was that those darn kids left all the overhead lights on again. I gave the large table the once-over, looking for Brian's glasses, which were sitting atop the panoramic puzzle of New York City (which was challenging but not impossible - I never imagined we would finish it in two hours! But Scott was a man on a mission that night...)

I grabbed the glasses and went over to turn off the light switches, which are located in the kitchen area of the rec room. And it was even warmer over there. I was about to walk out of the room when "something" made me step back to the oven. I suspected that Scott might have left it on last night when he was baking "pain au chocolat" for French club today.

I held my hand over the stove, and it was more than unusually warm. And I discovered that it wasn't that Scott left on the oven. No, Brian cooked his hamburger on the electric stove burner, and instead of turning the front burner off, he accidentally turned the wrong switch and turned the back burner on. Then he left the room with both electric burners on high. There was a metal baking sheet on the other burners, and a paper towel was a few inches away. I don't think it could have caught fire, but thankfully, I'll never need to find out.

Incidents like this leave me feeling so warm (no pun intended) and secure in the knowledge that God cares enough about us that He protects us, not only from outside dangers, but also from our own stupidity and carelessness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Day of Autumn

You know it must be the first day of Autumn when you leave your four sweet little girls on the swing like this:

Theresa, twins Noelle & Natalie, Clare

and when you turn around, you find this, instead:

Happy Fall, Y'all!

I Can't Think of a Good Title for This Post

I have a confession: I can't stand doing crafts with the kids. It always turns into a disaster. It wasn't always like this. I start out with high hopes, but invariably it turns into a free-for-all.

Whether we're making candles or finger-painting or making a foam Christmas tree, simultaneously there's always one kid who can't do it without help, one kid who can't do it without help but does it anyway, one kid who rushes through and is (poorly) done in five minutes, one kid who still isn't done two hours later, and, of course, the twins, too young to include but too old to be left out.

If it's a food craft, they're clamoring and fighting and crying ,"You said I could mix it!" or "I wanted to pour the chocolate chips in!"

And then there's me, rushing from kid to kid, trying to give three different sets of instructions at the same time while stopping one twin from giving the other a safety-scissor haircut, all in a state somewhere between frenzy and nervous breakdown.

Sometimes, just to liven things up, the occasional fight breaks out. And towards the end, they see something shiny, and I'm left cleaning up the glitter or pumpkin guts or picking up 300 twisted tie-dye rubber bands (and sporting tie-dyed hands for a week because I forgot to put on gloves), all the while wondering why I even bother in the first place. It completely wears me out for the rest of the day, and I usually need a nap and a heavy dose of solitude when it's all over.

It makes me wonder if I'm really cut out to be a homeschooling mom after all.

Having said all that, today we made rice krispy treats together.

Backstory: The last time we went to the salon, the stylist had a box of krispy treats and gave each of the girls one. Today we stopped in briefly, and as we were leaving, Natalie dug in her heels, started hopping up and down, and howling "I want a bar! I want a bar!" Of course, I had no idea what she meant.

Natalie hopped and howled all the way to the car, until Clare remembered the krispy treats from last time. So instead of scolding her or threatening her or any of those other things parents do in public to a tantrum kid, I tried to explain to a two-year-old that the treats were all gone. Didn't work. Then I told her that if she stopped crying, we would stop at the store and get marshmallows to make krispy treats at home. Thankfully, this did work.

They were very good in the store and for the 3-minute ride to our house. And true to my word, I proceeded to start making krispy treats, but I was dreading the usual clamoring chaos until I had a stroke of genius. This wouldn't work for every craft, but it worked like a charm this time.

I counted out 10 marshmallows per kid (next time I'll let them each count out 10), and let them drop them one by one into the melted butter. They ran laps around the downstairs until the microwaving was done. Then I showed them, to their amazement, the huge spongy mass that now was where their marshmallows had been.

Then - first stroke of genius - instead of scooping 6 cups of krispies one at a time out of the box, I scooped all six cups into large bowl and put 3 smaller measuring scoops into the bowl. Then I appointed the oldest, Clare, to be Designated Stirrer, because that marshmallow stuff is so goopy that she's the only one who could handle it.

Next - second stroke of genius - I took them out to the front walk so that any spills would be cleaned up by the wildlife detail instead of on my kitchen floor. And it worked beautifully! Clare was satisfied because she had an important job, using three scoopers meant that everybody got adequate turns to add krispies, and the smaller scoops meant that it took a good, long time to add them all.

Even more fun was that Mom let everybody eat handfuls of the sticky, gooey mess right out of the mixing bowl.

Remember that, kids. Your mom is awesome.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jalapeno Jarvest

I planted 5 jalapeno plants this year to try my luck, and to my surprise, they not only flourished, but the peppers are quite picoso as well.

This is today's pickings alone:

Never having done this before, I've got a few concerns. For instance, do these striations mean that the plants got too much water all at once, the way tomatoes will split? Or is it some kind of disease? My husband suggests that it might have been thrips. Is it still okay to eat?

Some of the peppers are starting to get blackish spots at the top. Is that normal, or a sign of spoilage? Again, are they okay to eat?

And we can't possibly eat all these peppers at once. How do I prepare them for storage? Cut and freeze? Roast and jar in oil? Ayudame !!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Swear, They're Really Mine!

Yes, I'm the mother of eight children. But the oldest few are often moving in their own circles these days, so I am frequently seen about town with only four, five or six children in tow. ("Only!" some of you may snort at this point)

When I'm out running errands with my entourage, the most common question I have to field is, "Are they all yours?" But invariably, the next question is, "Where did they get the blond hair?" See, I was blonde as a child, but by the age of 12 my hair had darkened to that point where you could no longer tell if it was a light brown or a dark blonde. I'm a deep chestnut brunette now (with sparkly silver highlights), which apparently makes me as out of place as a black orchid in a garden of lilies. It doesn't help AT ALL that the majority of the children favor their father's side of the family, either.

The difference is especially obvious when I have my four grubby angelic little blond girls with me. Clare (8) is still very brassy blond. Theresa's (5) roots are getting darker all the time, and the twins' hair is showing signs that it will also eventually get darker.

It's even worse when Conor accompanies me. He's the blondest of my blondies, with a head of hair like corn-silk which, at age 11, still isn't showing signs of turning darker.

I could try to explain that I used to be blond as a child, but these conversations usually take place as I'm entering or exiting the grocery store. No time for lengthy explanations. I usually have to reply, lamely, "Well, my husband is a blond," which isn't exactly true anymore. I mean, I still think of him as a blond, but my older children argue this point vigorously. They insist that he's got light brown hair now.

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. WHATever.

So I offer, as proof of my former blondicity, and to validate my claim as mother to these towheads, bona fide snapshots of me as a child:

Age 2, 3, 4

1st grade, 4th grade

And the strangest thing is that even though I haven't technically been a blonde for 29 years, I still don't automatically think of myself as having dark hair. Inside I will forever consider myself a blonde.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Madness

Today was NUTS. Not in a good way, either. I blogged earlier about how I think dressing identical twins alike is a safety measure, so that in the event one gets lost in public, you have a carbon copy to show the police what they should look for.

But what do you do if they get lost IN YOUR OWN HOUSE?

Some of you know that we're a homeschooling family. We've always tended toward a relaxed approach, but ever since we took our oldest to college last month, my 13yo 8th grader has been inspired to work harder so he can go to an awesome place like UPJ. So, at his request, we are "ramping up the schooling" to ensure he'll make the cut.

To accomplish this, I must become more regimented, more demanding, less forgiving, raise my expectations. I'm trying to add in new elements one at a time, but it's a challenge for this laid-back homeschooling mom, and it requires that I earmark more time for working with the oldest two.

This is where I get back around to the twins.

Today was stressful. I was spending one-on-one time with the older two homeschooled kids, while the younger two homeschooled kids watched a tv program with the twins. My husband was also around here somewhere, and I assumed that between the three of them, Theresa, Clare and Andy, they could keep tabs on the twins.

So at some point I became aware that my husband was looking for Natalie. No big deal. I mean, we're all in the house. How far can she go? She's really not that into potty training, so when she has to poop, she hides and gets real quiet-like. In fact, she thinks it's hilarious to hide from us, and she's got an unnatural ability to remain silent. So I'm not too concerned, initially.

But when they don't find her after a few minutes, I start to pray and go to investigate. The other kids are alerted, and we scatter to the four winds, calling her name. Not that we expect her to answer us when she's in stealth mode, anyway. Somebody crosses the street to check the neighbor's swingset. Somebody checks the yard. Somebody checks the beds, because she loves to crawl under the covers and has often fallen asleep that way. Somebody goes up to the third floor and down the back stairs. Check behind every closed door, because they can shut doors but they can't turn doorknobs. Man, this is a big house. And there are so many places to hide. After about 10 minutes, when my husband starts to check the woods behind the house, I realize that it's time to panic.

A note of desperation begins to creep into my voice as I call out her name. My silent prayers become breathless, out-loud prayers as I beseech Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and my favorite saints to protect Natalie and keep her from harm until we find her. At one point, I even start praying, "Oh Dear God, I don't care if she's drawing on the walls. I don't care if she has a Sharpie and she's drawing on anything in the house; my favorite king-size expensive sheets, my furniture or upholstery, my business paperwork. I don't care, just let me find her!"

And sure enough, on the second or third pass through the third floor, I start into my bedroom and find her standing there, guiltily. She's frozen. I'm frozen. Paralyzed with relief.

"Natalie, where were you?"

She answers in a tiny voice, "Nowhere."

Again. "Natalie, where were you?"

"Hidin under you bed."

Under my bed. UNDER MY BED?? I'm shaking and I'm near tears, but I lean out my bedroom window and call in a ragged voice, "I found her!" to call off the search. Then I sit down and calmly but forcefully tell her NO HIDING and ALWAYS ANSWER MOMMY AND DADDY WHEN WE CALL YOU. And of course, I hug her. Tight.

Oh, Thank You, Dear Jesus. Crisis averted.

But that kind of 5-alarm-fire is exhausting, emotionally and physically. And there is still all that schoolwork to cover. And to top it off, my normally-placid husband is in an exceptionally bad mood and is letting everybody know it. So he's storming around the house and shouting, and I'm trying to get'r'done with the same number of kids at the end of the day as when I started. Finally he leaves for work (night shift), I put those naughty twins for a short nap, I assign the older kids a lesson to do on their own, and I sit down with Clare & Theresa to do some school.

There's about one peaceful hour of this. Then Brian leaves for football practice, and I send someone in to rattle the twins' cages so we can eat dinner then go to a playground. I am finishing up a business email when they wake up. I really, genuinely thought they were still in their room until Natalie came to me and asked, "Where my sister Noelle?" Ummm...I don't know. Don't YOU know? Doesn't anybody know?

Oh, good Lord, not again...

My deepest fear is losing a child to death or abduction because of a moment of negligence. HOW could this be happening twice in the same day? WHY, with all the people in this house, can't we keep track of these little critters?

We do the same scattering routine, almost like a well-oiled machine. Across the street. In all the rooms. Up the front stairs and down the back. And Conor finds her in the alley behind our house, just outside the back gate. She, too, has gone in search of someplace "private" to do #2. I still have no idea which way she went out, or how she did it with nobody noticing.

Thanks be to God for such an anticlimactic ending to the day's events. But I don't know how much more of this I can take.

A typical scene in our house. The perpetrators. Natalie, wearing her customary hat, is also exhibiting her customary impish glint. Noelle, usually the snitch to Natalie's mischief-making, is proving that she's got a mischievous tendency as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Star Wars A Cappella performance - ingenious!

Had to share this! You kind of have to know Star Wars to really appreciate it. I have to give this guy credit...although wouldn't it be smarter to put this much effort into something that actually pays the rent?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dropping in to say "Hi!"

Hi People! How've you been? Well, I know how YOU'VE been, because I've been checking into all my favorite blogs. But I haven't updated for weeks, because if the internet is an information superhighway, I've been cruising for the last few weeks in a 1971 Ford Pinto. It's an old, slow, overwhelmed desktop that is very cranky and temperamental. You can't click more than once at a time or else it gets confused and refuses to budge. And heaven forbid you accidentally click on a .pdf!! Go to the bathroom, fix yourself a snack, iron the laundry, then come back and see if it's downloaded yet. It really does teach us a valuable lesson in patience. All the poor baby really needs is some extra RAM, but it's so expensive to upgrade for that model.

A few weeks ago my youngest angel, Natalie, wandered up to my bedroom in the middle of the night and crawled into my bed, lying right along the edge. Of course, it doesn't take a supergenius to guess that she fell out of bed at some point, and she caught my laptop with her foot as she fell. It was stationed on the end of my dresser, where I was trying out The Naked Alarm Clock. I absolutely, positively needed to get up on time the next morning, and sometimes I just don't hear my usual alarm clock. This was set to go off with a jangling, unfamiliar bell at top volume. Foolproof, right? I didn't figure Natalie into the equation...

When I tried to power up the laptop the next morning (and I didn't wake up on time, naturally)there was an error message that read, "No bootable devices...The hard drive is either damaged or disconnected... you are doomed...blah blah."

I was really hoping for "disconnected" but instead it was damaged beyond repair. All my homeschool records, all my Pampered Chef records, all my digital pictures that I hadn't put on Snapfish, all my emails and contacts, all my kids' school reports . . . . gone. What hurts the most was the homeschool records. My kids have to log over 900 hours of school each year, and I'm terrible at keeping paper records. We had several hundred hours logged already on that hard drive and now I GOT NOTHING.

Dell was fantastic about helping me out, though. I even was connected to a live, easily-understandable tech support (she was in the Philippines, but spoke perfect English) within FIVE MINUTES of holding!!

So my two purgatorial weeks of using the cranky old computer are at an end.

Now I just have to be more careful of where I put my laptop.

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