Saturday, February 28, 2009

Me and My Big Embouchure

Many of our friends and family are considerate enough to ask us what kinds of gifts we would prefer for Liesl and Ava. I usually ask that toys or clothes don't have any kind of characters on them, like Disney Princesses, Dora the Explorer (gag), or Barbie. These companies make enough money without my kids being walking advertisements, and having to pay for the privilege of doing so. I also ask that toys do not require batteries, or make any noise--unless the noise is kid-powered. But in the last 6 months, I have informed people that since we are so immersed in musical education for the kids, musical toys are welcomed...and actually preferred. Or were.

Yeah, I'm an idiot. My dear friend Amy, who is also Liesl's godmother, took me up on my little suggestion, and brought Liesl her birthday gift of bathtub flutes by Alex Toys. These nifty little auditory torture devices toys allow a lot of creativity in the bath--the kids can fill the water to different heights to achieve different pitches. Lots of creativity and learning going on in the bathtub, folks. Lots of Excedrin being popped by the bathers, too.

Their saving grace--and the reason I haven't (yet) brutally murdered my best friend of almost 20 years, however good her intentions--is that they are, indeed, confined to the bathtub. (Did I also mention that Tom is primarily in charge of bathtime, so he has to deal with the brunt of the racket music that comes from these lovely instruments?)

Thanks, Amy. The kids really do love them, as shown below. Remember, though, what I warned you about yesterday: Paybacks are a b*tch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rundown

1. My dear (skinny) friend Kelly told me where to find this absolutely fantastic guacamole mix in the store.

2. I found it, bought it, and made it on Friday night.

3. It was gone on Saturday morning. (Tom only ate 2 Tbs. of it.)

4. My skinny jeans are not traveling to Florida with us.

5. I am never speaking to Kelly again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kids 'n Strings

Liesl and I went to the Kids 'n Strings event at the Oak Park Jewish Community Center this afternoon. Oh, we loved it! We had such fun. It featured the Ambassador String Quintet, which was a treat for us--we have seen a few quartets, but we have not seen a double bass in person. The musicians prepared a very special interactive presentation of several pieces for us, and showed the differences in their instruments. The kids all enjoyed it and got involved, and it was fun to see the adults getting into it as well. (Myself included.) This was a rare opportunity to introduce very small children to live classical music without having to worry (too much) about their behavior, how they were shuffling in their seats, or all the noise they make.

Our favorite piece was when the quintet played several of their own special versions of "Old Mac Donald." They had a different key and a different tempo for each version...but most importantly, they had a different animal in each version that we were supposed to "listen for." The violins chirped like a bird; the viola "skittered" like tiny mouse feet; the cello "hee-hawed" like a donkey; and the bass player did an absolutely hilarious version of a cow chewing and mooing. Liesl had such a ball with that piece. I just love it when kids are so into something that they don't even know they're learning!

I was able to turn this into an event on the FAMC calendar, and got a few of our FAMC members to bring their children to the event. There were also two other students from our violin teacher's studio at the event with their parents, so we got to see a lot of familiar faces.

(And I'm fairly certain that my kid was the only Christian kid dancing to "Hava Nagila." Priceless.)

The bass playing the cow

She actually sat still and paid attention!
Yeah, it was that good!

Dancing to "Hava Nagila"

Liesl and Miriam, who coordinated the event for the JCC.
An absolute sweetheart.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Early Bird Learn

Today, we attended a very special Mom's club event, an "Explore Your World" playgroup given by my friend Kelly. The object of the playgroup was to learn about the benifits of vermicomposting for the home gardener, and the planet. Kelly prepared a very special demonstration for the kids, including a lot of hands-on activities--and later, of course, they got to see and touch the worms. :-) There was a HUGE crowd in her house, and so many questions! About 15 moms and well over 20 kids showed up. Afterwards, there were great snacks and social time for the kids and the moms.

Liesl and her buddy, Tiama, (age 6 and homeschooled) watching the presentation. The kids were REALLY into it. They all stayed very still and quiet, listening to Kelly's talk. She had lots of hands-on stuff for the kids to look at, touch, etc. I was amazed that such a large crowd of such little kids could sit still and pay attention for so long. Must've been a darned good presenter!

At the end of the demonstration, Kelly opened up both her bins so we could see the worms! The kids were FASCINATED. They couldn't tear themselves away.

Colleen with Nadeem, age 2; and Tiama, age 6, asking questions of Kelly. Julia, age 3.95, in the bottom left corner (Christine's daughter)

Christine with daughter Julia. Julia was fearless! Most of the kids were very comfortable with touching the worms (mine included.)

And what would a worm workshop/playgroup be without dirt cake? There was also lots of fruit, cheese and crackers, salsa and guacamole. But the dirt cake was the hit of the show!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"...You've got WHAT living in your house?!?!?!"

That's the response I had when I told some friends about my new vermicomposting bin. Yup, I have masses of tiny, wriggly little redworms living in my house. Intentionally. I asked for them, from a dear friend who got me excited about vermicomposting. Many of you who visit our home on a regular basis are used to seeing Cool Whip containers of kitchen waste sitting on our counters, waiting to be taken to the compost bin outside. When the weather is warm, we don't mind taking trips out to the compost bin in the corner of our yard. However, when it is cold, snowy, and wet outside, it is a pain to get bundled up just to carry a couple of containers of scraps outdoors. Ta-da! Instant solution: set up a worm bin. Perfect!

They live in a Rubbermaid 31-gallon tote, in which I drilled several holes for ventilation and drainage. I filled it with shredded newspaper and corrugated cardboard for bedding and moistened it with water. (Liesl had a great time helping me shred and mix the newspaper, by the way.) I buried a week's worth of food scraps in the bedding and then impatiently waited for my friend Kelly to bring me a batch of her surplus redworms. That was such a great day--two grown adults (Kelly and I) and our four kids, ages 1-4, huddled around this bin watching a mass of wiggly pink worms in a pile of newspaper. Oh, the things we find amusing! :-) And it doesn't stink...seriously! It currently sits in our front hallway, and we have never noticed an odor. This is accomplished by carefully burying the food waste in the bedding, so that any rotting food is covered and not exposed to too much air.

We will be conducting some experiments in our garden this year. We plan to fertilize half of our pepper plants with vermicompost and half without, and see what kinds of yields we get.

And for those of you who are saying, "eww" (I know you're out there, I can hear you gagging), imagine the benefits: No more trudging out into the snow to dump compost into an outdoor pile. Free fertilizer for plants.'s science! Science is happening in your very own home. Our girls--even the baby--are fascinated by this phenomenon. Imagine the learning going on in their little brains! Ava cannot be torn away from the bin when it is open, she keeps pointing into it and saying, "Ehh? Ehh? Ehh!" She learned the ASL sign for "worm" very quickly! Liesl asks a thousand questions about what's happening in the bin, and talks to the worms. (On a good day, she can be found sitting next to the bin, earnestly reading stories out of her Curious George books through the ventilation holes in the bin. We wouldn't want the worms to get bored, would we?)

It's a win/win situation: The worms get a comfortable, safe place to live and plenty of food to eat. Free room and board! We get incredible fertilizer for free, and we don't have to trudge outside to our compost bin in the frigid cold.

My dear friend Kelly is hosting a vermicompsting playgroup on Friday through our Mom's club, to introduce kids and their moms to the concept. Kelly is working on getting her Master Composting certification, so she has become very knowledgeable. And, the snacks (for the humans) she is planning for her playgroup...well, let's just say I'll have to post some pictures soon. :-)

I drilled 1/4" holes in the bottom and sides of the bin for drainage and air circulation.

Based on Kelly's experiences, and copying her brilliant idea, I used a hot-glue gun and affixed small patches of old, cut-up nylon stockings over the holes, to prevent fruit fly infestation. (I hope worms are happy with the color of the nylons...I could have used my old black ones.)

This is the bottom bin, to catch any drainage. Tom cut and sanded PVC pipe pieces for me, to use as "stilts" between the bottom drainage bin and the worm bin.
Setting the worm bin inside the drainage bin, stilts holding the worm bin up.

And now, for bedding. :-) I had lots of help shredding newspapers, old bills, and credit card solicitations for the bedding. Kelly's husband is a police officer, and he made the observation that no crook will go searching in a bin of rotting food and worms for papers to steal our identities. :-) See, another benefit!

Liesl helping me bury the first load of kitchen scraps for the worms.
And they're home! :-) They were a little shell-shocked at first.

Kelly's and my kids: Emma, almost 5; Jack, almost 3; Liesl, 3; and Ava, 1--all hung out around the worm bin for a few minutes. Just look at the learning that is going on in their little heads.

Ava finally got a turn (look at how Liesl was "teaching" her dolly about vermicomposting, too)

All the "big kids" got to touch the of course Ava wanted to, too. Oh, I knew we'd have sibling rivalry, but I never imagined it would involve blind, cold-blooded, legless creatures.

The next day...overnight, the worms had migrated from the top of the bedding down to the garbage I had buried. Many of them were partying together in an onion skin.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


We just can't seem to catch a break. The kids get sick. Then they get better, but I get sick. Then I feel better, but they get sick--and they are usually considerate enough to stagger their illnesses, in order to maximise the amount of time that we can't do anything outside the house. It goes on and on and on. Now both of the girls are on antibiotics, which I hate to do, but they really need them this time. I worry I'm going to be next. Our doctor is sick of seeing our faces. Tom can't take time off of work to help out because of the state of GM right now. The kids are bloody sick and tired of being cooped up in the house for weeks and weeks on end. But, I can't take them out because they'll infect every other kid they come in contact with, or one will spontaneously combust because she's really not well and needs her rest.

When I worked in a middle school as an interpreter, I was always disgusted with parents who sent their kids to school when they were obviously sick enough to infect everyone around them, not to mention not able to concentrate fully on their schoolwork. It isn't fair to the sick kid or anybody else around them. Now I sort of get it--eventually the kids have to get OUT of the house, or they'll miss a month's worth of schoolwork. That doesn't make it right to infect everybody else around them, but what are they going to do?

I honestly don't know where the perpetual sickness comes from. I make sure they get enough sleep; I feed them a pretty good diet with fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean meat; we do a fair amount of hand-washing in the house. Nobody is in daycare, I have limited contact with people outside of my "Mom" role, and nobody at Tom's work is sick. Sure, we expect to get a bug here and there...but constantly???? It's getting so old, it's all I can do to not sit down and cry every morning.

I shouldn't complain, either. Tom survived all the layoffs of salaried workers and still has a job as of now. He is going to take a pay cut, and the cost of our out-of-pocket healthcare benefits is rising, but he still has a job, and we still have health insurance. We will have to tighten our belts even more, but as long as he has a job, we will survive. We know so many people who have been laid off and are loosing everything. One of the engineers we know of has sent out 70 resumes in the last 6 months...and he has heard nothing from any of them. I should be thankful that we can at least afford to buy medicine to help the kids get better, that we aren't going to foreclose on our mortgage, and that we still have some creature comforts. If I didn't keep those things in mind, I don't know how much more I would able to take of this weather, these horribly crabby, snot-producing children, and being trapped for weeks on end in a house that is rapidly getting too small.

Spring cannot come soon enough.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

For Grammie and Papa

For my parents, who are spending 2 months in Florida (oh, you poor things) but are definitly missing their grandchildren.

Here is the promised video of Ava climbing up on the piano bench. She also climbs up on sofas, kitchen chairs, and step stools. She has had limited success with climbing on a bed (she will carry a step stool to the bed to give herself a boost. Or use the nearest unsuspecting human being as a human stepladder.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh, Deer

Look what decided to come over the berm to pay our yard a visit during breakfast (and drop some poop in the process!) Why, yes! It's a DEER! Oh, happy, happy; joy, joy! But wait..."This is Suburbia," you say? True, though we are fortunate enough to live in a subdivision that is much older, and has larger yards and lots of forest.

Tom and I constantly rebel against our parents, who curse and complain about squirrels, blue jays, and snakes in their yards. We, on the other hand, love these kinds of critters and enjoy observing them and discussing them during mealtimes. However, our tolerance is not extended to these lovely, malicious bandits. If you could see the damage these majestic beasts can inflict on flower and vegetable gardens in one night--not to mention dropping huge piles of rabbit beans poop on your lawn--you might not love the sight of them so much.

The kids got a huge kick out of it. Ava loved the thing. (Mommy and Daddy didn't explain that this is why we have the electric fence around our precious corn patch.) Liesl wants to name it "Mr. Deer." (I want to name it "Mr. Dead.") Though, since we're not exactly on intimate terms with the deer, we don't know what to call it. Sir? Ma'am? Him? Her? It? (I call it "Get-your-butt-out-of-my-gardens-you-thieving-cloven-hoofed-bastard!")

Ah, spring.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Liesl's 3rd Violin Recital

The February recital was last Sunday. It was a busy day, between Sunday School and the recital! She did very well, although we had a few, um, behavioral issues prior to her going up for her performance. Oh well...she's 3 and acts her age sometimes.

Here is her repertoire for the recital:

* "Blast Off Song," a game created by Miss Sharon to help her differentiate between the A and D strings (the two strings in the middle, which she often muddled together until we we started this game)
* Variation A Rhythm on all 4 strings (4 sixteenth notes followed by 2 eighth notes)
* The first line of "Twinkle Twinkle." Her first time playing a note other than an open string in a recital. She has been learning how to place the correct fingers on the correct tape of the correct string at the correct time. No pressure....

Earnestly practicing Saturday night

Hanging out with Mr. C. at the reception after the recital. Mr. C. is our violin
teacher's other adult student. She talked his ear off. Poor man....

Scoping Ava's tray for cookies, no doubt

Ava loves her portable high chair so much, she wants to sit in it at home too, while we were unloading the van.
What can I say. My kids are weird.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009


July 4, 1989 - February 9, 2009

Momma whispered softly,
"Time will ease your pain
Life's about changing
Nothing ever stays the same

How can I help you to say good-bye?
It's okay to hurt
It's okay to cry
Come, let me hold you
And I will try...
How can I help you to say good-bye?"

-Patty Loveless

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First Day of Sunday School

Liesl's first day at Sunday School was great! She loved it, and she really liked her teacher, Miss Ashley. She loves to spend time with other kids. Often we find ourselves in social situations where the kids are older than she is--our violin studio's next youngest student is 5, her cousins are in elementary and middle school, and most of our friends have older children--so it was nice to get Liesl into a group of kids her age. Instead of putting Ava in the nursery during Sunday School time, I decided to spend some "alone time" with her, which was really refreshing. I don't get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my wee little one, so we had fun playing in our church's narthex and looking at books together. Tom and I have been members of our church since before we were married, and our church friends' children learn so much. To see Liesl walking into Sunday School for the first time was something I've been daydreaming about ever since I was pregnant with her. That precious little baby that I held in my arms 3 years ago is getting so big...but how wonderful it is to see her experience these simple joys and events for the first time. This, to me, is what being a family is all about.

Liesl also had her third violin recital today, and did very well. I will post about that later in the week. The girls spent more time in their dresses today than in their play clothes. Our Sunday consisted of getting up, having a family breakfast, practicing violin, bundling off to church for Sunday School, then staying for the main service; coming home, changing clothes, grabbing a quick bite of lunch, bundling everyone off for a nap; then waking everyone up from their nap early (THAT went over well--NOT!), changing clothes again, bundling off to the recital, performing, eating dinner at the potluck after the recital (which is always lots of fun, but means Mommy and Daddy have to stay pretty alert in case the girls start investigating the cookie table a little TOO closely), and going home. Phew! Bring on the Monday, we need to relax!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

G Major Scale

I couldn't help but post this--Liesl successfully completed her C Major scale at her violin lesson last Saturday, so Miss Sharon introduced a new scale for this week. Since it took Liesl about 5-6 weeks to learn the C Major scale on the piano, I figured it would be a few weeks before she got her G Major scale right.

Mommy didn't give her enough credit: She learned it within 4 days.

The Suzuki Method is wonderful, Liesl is learning so much, so quickly, and is truly enjoying it--she actually asks me if she can practice longer or more often on most days. My own personal research shows that Suzuki has received a share of criticism by those who feel it doesn't place enough emphasis on reading music during these early stages. Miss Sharon circumvents this by teaching basic piano keyboarding skills to all of her students for this reason and a variety of others; plus, we use several other violin practice books, games, and activities along with our Suzuki books and CD's. Liesl really balked at piano at first, but now she readily sits down to the piano every day to practice her scales. A small taste of success can be so addictive!

And, in the background, always watching, always listening, and always wanting to copy her big sister, is Ava. She's next!

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Invisible Mother

This was sent to me via email by a MOPS friend of mine. It was such a nice thing to read while I am trapped by frigid weather in our home with two kids and their runny noses and fevers. I hope it brings a bit of a smile to your face and a bit of peace in your heart, as it did mine.
~ Invisible Mother ~

It all began to make sense: the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously, not.

No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor,or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands,nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going; she's going; she is gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To My Dear Friend , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'you're going to love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

I hope this encourages you when the going gets tough, as it sometimes does. We never know what our finished products will turn out to be, because of our perseverance.