Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brian's 15th Birthday

Brian and his ukelele. BFFs.

Eclair Cake. Light, fluffy pudding goodness. More about this tomorrow.

Lots of helpers to blow out the candles, but he's a good sport about it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sweet Potatoes Come Back Out.

Ice cream doesn't.


1.  That looks AMAZING.  I must have some!
2.  Nom nom nom.
3.  Bring on the next bite!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Aikido Kai

For the past six months, the kids have been attending a martial arts self-defense class called aikido.  So far it's all been about being able to get your attacker off balance, and how to fall safely.  The sensei is an incredibly limber man in his 60s who falls down (and gets back up) about a hundred times in each class.   If I fell down even once, it would be all over for me.

Anyway, one snowy Saturday morning, my kids were the only ones to make it to class.  I had intended for the twins to sit on the sidelines with me, but Sensei invited them onto the mats.  They did okay, though a little bit rambunctious.  I was surprised when, the next week, he asked why they weren't at class.  I thought they were too young, but as long as he didn't think they were a disruption, I was willing to try.

They have gone to class for the past two weeks.  Natalie surprised me; I expected her to be either bored or too timid,  but she participated and paid attention the whole time.  Noelle, not so much.  If she makes it for half the class, it's a good day.

I love how Natalie's peeking at the camera here.

We had a parade in our town recently, and the aikido dojo marched along in it. That's Brian in the purple, and Theresa's the blondie holding the sign. Clare is behind her.

Clare & Conor

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Boats & Birds - Gregory and the Hawk

I don't know what this song is really written about, but I can't think of a more fitting (and touching) song for the mother-child relationship. I can't hear this song without tearing up.

If you'll be my star
I'll be your sky
You can hide underneath me and come out at night
When I turn jet black and you show off your light
I live to let you shine
I live to let you shine

And you can sky-rocket away from me
And never come back if you find another galaxy
Far from here with more room to fly
Just leave me your stardust to remember you by

If you be my boat
I'll be your sea
The depth of pure blue just to probe curiosity
Ebbing and flowing and pushed by a breeze
I live to make you free
I live to make you free

But you can set sail to the west if you want to
And past the horizon till I can't even see you
Far from here where the beaches are wide
Just leave me your wake to remember you by

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Legacy Lives On

Almost five years ago, some generous and loving friends and relatives gathered together to shower us with baby gifts as we awaited the birth of our twins, even though these were babies #7 and #8.  We received some extra baby equipment, many adorable matching outfits, enough diapers in various sizes to last us an entire year (no exaggeration), and some generous monetary gifts.

During the last trimester, I was overcome by fatigue while browsing in a department store with the kids.  I felt like I just couldn't walk another step, and Clare and Theresa, who were 3 and 5, were getting restless.  So I headed to a niche in the store where they keep their clearance furniture.  It is a room lined with wall-to-wall couches and chairs, and it's fairly private.  I knew I could rest there a spell in relative privacy while the kids safely romped off some of their energy.

As we entered the room, there it was - sitting across the room, directly in front of me, as if it had known I was coming.  As if it had been waiting for me.  A double-wide oak glider rocker.  Feeling as bulky as a sumo wrestler at the time, I was immediately drawn to it.  This chair just spoke to me.  It was large enough to fit me, my twin belly, and a child on each side.  I could see myself reading to the girls.  I pictured myself rocking (and nursing) both twins at once.    It was a handsome chair; my husband would be proud to rock his babies in it. 

There was no other choice to make.  I would use our baby shower money to invest in this piece of furniture, which would surely pay off in dividends of memories and love.

I was not mistaken; the chair is still a favorite.  It started out in our bedroom, did a stint in the living room (until the kids leaned on the arms too much and loosened the spindles), then reclaimed its place in our bedroom.  It creaks more than it used to, and has been fortified with Mighty Putty more than once, thanks to the way the kids use it as a recliner instead of a rocker.  I'm pleased to say that it isn't even covered in laundry too often.  I nurse the baby in it almost every day, several of us sit there to read, and it is ready for us to sit in it at almost any moment.

Unless Mittens the Kitten is around.


My chair.  Go away.

Wheels, and Lousy Luck.

Last month we found the perfect car for Scott.  He now has a full-time job, the Malibu was getting poor gas mileage, and I can't possibly shuttle him there and back every day.  We looked around for a while until we found a kelly green metallic Subaru, the ideal car for him.  Good gas mileage, but funky and somewhat unique.  We picked it up on a Saturday evening, and he was thrilled.

Until Sunday evening, that is, when he crossed paths with another teen driver coming the opposite way.  I can't really picture how it happened.  I imagine it was something like this:  La-di-da, here I am traveling west.  Oh, there's the traffic light.  I have to turn left here.  Oh, hey, there's another car coming east through the traffic light. He's already in the intersection.  Oh, what the heck, I can make it.  I'M GOING FOR IT.  NOBODY LIVES FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While Scott was exercising his legal right of way, proceeding through the green light, the kid tried to make his turn and, as my husband put it, "T-boned" Scott.  Smashed right into the driver's side.  

Scott's car was totaled, after only 28 hours of ownership.  Thankfully nobody was hurt., but Scott really does have the worst luck, if you will.

Below is the replacement.

96 hours and counting.

Speaking of replacements, here's how we replaced the van.

It seats 9, which still leaves us two short.  The oldest two rarely travel with us anymore, though.  It's a much nicer vehicle, but I still miss my shoddy old van, which seated twelve plus plenty of room for our stuff.  We gained a bit of luxury (and doubled our gas mileage), but lost all that cargo space and extra seating.  However, we do have heating and ac in the rear seats now.  That part will be nice.  But still, I miss my van.

Regina @ 5 months

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Baby Love

Regina, 5 months old, with Noelle and Clare.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Proverbs 17 Family

Perhaps I should offer an explanation to my Proverbs 17 header up there, lest anyone think we're some kind of dire, dour, doom-and-gloom Bible thumping family.  I mean, I may be an aspiring Bible-thumper, but not a dire, dour, doom-and-gloom sort of one.

Many years ago, my husband received the good advice that if you don't know where to start reading the Bible, open it to the book of Proverbs and choose the chapter corresponding to today's date.  There are only 31 chapters of Proverbs, so it works out perfectly.

Because I want to make reading Scripture a more prominent part of our family life, naturally I gravitated to the daily Proverbs when I was looking for a place to start with the boys.  We didn't get to it every day (still don't), but it was always an extra-special treat when we happened to hit upon a day that included the word "numbskull."  (That's in the BibleREALLY??)

On the 17th of a month not long ago, somehow it seemed that everything we read was speaking directly to us and our specific weaknesses, as individuals and as a family  Verse after verse made us hang our heads, chastened, again and again.  So I made Powerpoint slides of the pertinent verses, converted them to .jpgs, and made a Picasa collage out of them. 

>> Better a crust of dry bread, than a house full of feasting with strife.  (Some dinnertimes at our table are truly miserable affairs.  I still haven't resorted to feeding them dry bread crusts.  Not yet anyway.)

>> Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.  (The quantity of bickering and quarrels around here is off the charts)

>> He who loves a quarrel loves sin.  (Ditto)

>> He who covers over an offense promotes love, (oh, just overlook someone else's fault once in a while, won'tcha?)

>> but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (and don't keep bringing it up!)

>> Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent (you know who you are)

>> To have a fool for a son brings grief, and the father of a numbskull has no joy.  (Uses the word 'numbskull.'  Duh.)

I'd like to say that we've managed to eliminate those particular faults by now, but I don't want to break the sixth commandment.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Magic Words

No, I'm not talking 'please' or 'thank you.'

I don't even mean 'I'm sorry' or "I love you.'

The magic words my husband recently discovered are, "Can you tell me how much of my donation is used for administrative costs, and how much reaches the intended recipients?"

You've all been there:  the phone rings at dinnertime, and on the other end is someone who mispronounces your name, asks how your evening is going, and then proceeds to ask for money for the March of Dimes, the statewide Sheriff's Association, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Disabled Veterans, the American Cancer Society, etc.

They go into their spiel, and you squirm on your end while they systematically shoot down every one of your questions and objections.  This weekend, however, my husband asked the magic question to two separate tele-fundraisers, and each time he got an identical response - they gave him the 800-number for the charity itself, and told him he could get the information from them.  Nothing else.  No more badgering or wheedling or cajoling.  They didn't even ask if they could send out a pledge card for us to consider.  Just an 800-number and a hasty hang-up.

Try it next time.  "Can you tell me how much of my donation is used for administrative costs, and how much reaches the intended recipients?"

Please don't misunderstand me - many of these are doing vitally important, life-saving work.  Your favorite charity is also a deeply personal issue - I remember tearfully volunteering and donating to the American Heart Association right after a family member had quadruple-bypass surgery. 

Putting emotion aside, however, I urge everyone to choose a charity that gives the most bang-for-your-buck, getting the most aid to its intended recipients while keeping administrative costs to a minimum, including a relatively low salary for its CEO.

Two websites I have recently discovered are Charity Navigator Rating and the Better Business Bureau's Charity Reviews.

There I learned the shocking truth that since Congress passed the Do-Not-Call legislation, most telemarketing firms lost their for-profit clients, so they had to turn to nonprofit organizations for business.  Many of those fundraising phone calls are made by a paid third-party agency who keeps anywhere from 25 to 95 cents of every dollar they collect.  (reference here, see #2)

I'll use the American Cancer Society as a random example, only because they were the last charity to call me, and they did use a paid caller.  This means that by pledging 20 dollars to the American Cancer Society over the phone, you run the risk that up to 18 of those dollars will be kept by the telemarketing firm who called you.  Make sure you ask every charity phone solicitor if they are volunteering for the agency itself, or if they are paid callers.  Ask them how much money will actually end up with the charity.  By law, they have to tell you.

At those aforementioned websites, you can find out that the American Cancer Society has a 1 out of 4 star rating for efficency, and that only 72% of your donation is actually for their program costs, and their CEO's salary is over a million dollars a year.  That means that of those 2 dollars that might actually make it to the American Cancer Society, a whopping $1.44 will actually be used for the American Cancer Society's research and programs.  Makes you feel really good about your donation, doesn't it?

Let's look at another charity.   Food for the Poor  rates 4 out of 4 stars, and uses 97% of their donations to bring relief to the poorest of the poor, especially in Haiti.  Their CEO earns around $425,000 a year. 

The Disabled Veterans Associations of Parma, Oh, uses an appalling 4.6% of the funds raised to actually help disabled vets; 94.6% goes to fundraising costs.  The last reported salary for their CEO was $89,746.  They have a rating of zero stars.

In contrast, the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Services Trust has a four-star, 92.3% efficiency rating, and their chairman gets $3,980 a year in compensation.  Wow.  What a difference.

And the Disabled American Veterans?  This is what the Charity Navigator has to say:  "We don't evaluate Disabled American Veterans.  Why not? We evaluate charitable organizations as defined by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. DAV is a 501(c)(4) organization, and as such, its activities are not limited exclusively to charitable pursuits.

The Woman2Woman Breast Cancer Foundation, who recently solicited us for a donation, doesn't have a rating because it hasn't disclosed any information to the Better Business Bureau, despite repeated attempts by the BBB to compile the information.  What does THAT say to you?

I also just learned that the American Heart Association rates 2 stars, pays its Executive Director 450K a year and only uses 74.3% of donations for its stated purposes.  Oh, and its former Exec Director pulled in 1.1 million annually.  Sweet.

I guess the bottom line is that charitable giving can be a veritable minefield to navigate.  Be informed.  Please know where your money is going before you send that check or give out your credit card number.  Even better, refuse to donate over the phone (see #5), look up the charity for yourself, and donate to them directly to ensure that they receive every penny.

Please read Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors before you make another donation, and read What To Do When A Charity Calls before the phone rings again.

And remember, charity is another word for love.