Friday, March 27, 2009

We have bugs in our house!

They are well-enclosed, and we brought them inside intentionally. Caroline has an ant farm. :)

Her Uncle Stephen gave it to her for Christmas. We'd been waiting to order the ants because they are cheaper during the months of March-September, and well, they aren't actually guaranteed to arrive alive in the colder months unless you pay extra for better shipping. So, the ants arrived in the mail yesterday, and we started the farm by poking four starter holes and then dumping the ants in - all 30 of them, although some were dead. We'll pick those out after the living ants are mostly down in the tunnels they will dig.The ant farm contains this cool blue gel that sustains the ants as well as provides them with something to create their tunnels. It lights up when plugged in - very high-tech! The box says for ages 8 and up, but as Stephen said, "Well, she's smart for her age, right?"

The ants just ran around on the surface at first, looking confused. The directions said they might not tunnel for 24 to 48 hours since the gel is a new substance to them.

Apparently these ants are pretty advanced, because the next morning, they'd begun tunneling in three of the four starter holes (the fourth hole is blocked by a dead ant, I think - oops). These photos were taken almost 24 hours after we dumped the ants in. Pretty cool-looking, huh?

A close-up of some of the ants in their tunnel... the farm (ahem, excuse me, "habitat," as the box says) came with some magnifying glasses so you can observe the ants up close and personal, count the hairs on their legs and fun stuff like that.

Several ants want to extend this tunnel, it seems...

After her initial worry about the ants getting out, and whether or not they were "stinging" ants (they *are* red, actually), Caroline thought the ant farm was really neat! It is on the bookshelf in her bedroom where she can observe it. A really cool thing is that once all these ants die, we can get a new batch (colony?) and they will change the tunnels to whatever suits them. I guess we can keep re-using it until the gel is mostly gone.

And here is a view looking down from above - you can see the lights shining through it here.

I will post updates on the ant farm periodically, so check back to see their progress! Chris was kicking the idea around of a "Caroline's Ant Farm Webcam," actually...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

So, my kids are religious fanatics...

Cecilia's hero is the Pope, as I mentioned previously.

Caroline's heroes are more local - Father Paul, and Mike Revak, our seminarian. He gave her a red pen, and she uses it every single time she wants to draw or color or "write." She wanted to ask him to sit with us at dinner at church the other night. Too bad for her that her first "crushes" are definitely not available! The above photo of him appeared on the front of our weekly archdiocesan newspaper (my aunt's sister, who works for the archdiocese and occasionally reads this blog, had better not turn me in for copyright infringement!), and when she saw it, Caroline immediately announced, "Hey, that's Mike Revak!!!"

She wants me to cut it out for her so she can save it. I wonder if she's going to ask him to autograph it and then hang it on her wall...

Edited to add:Here is Caroline's drawing of Mike Revak, which is a gift for him. She gave it to him tonight at Stations of the Cross. She was so excited, and waited for him after Stations so she could give it to him... and get that picture autographed. I jokingly asked her if she was going to get him to sign it, and she took me quite seriously (no surprise there, actually). She also gave him a grocery list she "wrote" and a drawing of Uncle Tim. The above drawing is pretty significant in that it is her first-ever drawing of a person with actual arms and legs. And it is just like I remember learning in a child development class in college - a big round head with lines coming out for the appendages. Neat to see that progression in her drawing! She also wrote his name around it, which you can make out if you start at the 12 o'clock position and pretend the letters that look like P or F are really K. I spelled his name out loud for her while I was doing something in the bathroom - probably changing a diaper - and when she couldn't figure out how to make a K, she got one off the alphabet puzzle so she could try to copy it - pretty good thinking there!

Now she's asking when we are going to invite Mike Revak over for dinner... and Father Paul, too.

Caroline Turns Four!

We had a wonderful family celebration for Caroline's fourth birthday! Here are her cards, all lined up on the china cabinet.

It's a poor photo, but I put Caroline's one year, two year, and three year old photos on the table where we arranged the food. We had Chick-fil-A nuggets, potato salad made by my mom, fruit salad, veggies with dip, pita chips with hummus, and shrimp cocktail.

I also made a cake for Caroline - chocolate with "pink sugar icing," as she requested again this year. The icing is strawberry - yum! Caroline got the honor of licking one of the beaters while I frosted the cake.

I had to include this picture because I thought it was funny. This is Tyke, my brother's dog, up on the back of the couch where my dad was sitting. My dad kept eyeing the dog suspiciously as it sat behind his head.

Caroline's party guests were both sets of grandparents and Uncle Mike and Aunt Crystal... and Tyke, of course.

Caroline got lots of fun gifts. Here she is opening a bag from Uncle Mike and Aunt Crystal - she got Model Magic, bath crayons and dyes, and a couple Spring craft kits. She already had fun making a bunny today!

Here she is getting ready to open a git from Uncle Tim. He had visited our parents a week ago and left his gift to Caroline with them so they could bring it to her on her birthday.

A new book, Joseph and Chico, and some holy cards - Tim got them at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Alabama, where he and some fellow seminarians had recently visited. I had been eyeing this book for awhile and am looking forward to reading it myself!

Here is Caroline with her bag from Gran and Grandad. She got all kinds of goodies from them including leggings, pajamas, socks, colored pencils, and hair clips!

Here she is opening her gift from Gramma and Grampa - it was a set of dress-up clothes based on the book character Fancy Nancy. See below for a photo of her all dressed up!

A gift from Cecilia (okay, I bought it in reality): musical instruments! A tambourine, maracas, and a jingle bell thing. Caroline said, "Now we can play marching band!" Daddy replied jokingly, "That will be a good thing to play when I'm at work!"

Here is Caroline blowing out her candles on her cake. I am sad to say I missed this moment. Cecilia had woken after a brief time of napping and I went to resettle her and told everyone to just go ahead with the cake if they wanted.

This is how she looks all dressed up in her new clothes. She wore some of them out to dinner at Gondolier that night for a birthday dinner with the grandparents!

The big gift from Mommy and Daddy was a new bike with training wheels. We didn't actually get a photo of her with it, though, because we were busy videotaping her as she tried it out for the first time!

Caroline with Gramma and Grampa

Caroline with Gran
(Grandad was outside with Daddy at this point , finishing the replacement roof on one of the storage sheds)

Caroline, I cannot believe you are already FOUR!! Where has the time gone? You are growing up into a very special girl! We love you!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We did lots of simple yet fun things to celebrate St. Patrick's Day! We stayed home all day - it was a peaceful day, but we stayed very busy. I saw these yummy-looking treats back on Valentine's Day and thought they would be fun to make. I thought the next good opportunity would be St. Patrick's Day, with green sprinkles instead of valentine colors. Caroline enjoyed the dipping and sprinkling!

Pretty!! And so unhealthy. My husband wonders who I am and what I did with his wife. I'm not even going to think any more about what is in that white bark coating or how much saturated fat it has!! Every once in awhile, a non-healthy treat is fun. And we are hosting our moms' group/playgroup this Friday, so we'll be sure to save some of these to share then as a treat for Caroline's upcoming birthday!

I came up with a very simple craft for Caroline to celebrate Saint Patrick. I'm going to post the details here so I can refer to them in the future (and in case anybody wants to use the idea themselves). It could be adapted with any shape - a heart for Valentine's Day, or any other symbol.

I bought a piece of green felt from the craft section and freehanded a shamrock shape on a piece of paper, and then I traced it onto the felt and cut it out:

You can't tell, but I cut small slits around the edges. Then I made a "lacing needle" by taking a half of a pipe cleaner and bending it in half. Then I tied one end of a long piece of yarn to it. Caroline held the "needle" and pushed the folded end through the slits in the shamrock.

She weaved it in and out to lace around the edges. She got it tangled some, but the idea was just for her to practice with lacing. I had to hold the shamrock up for her most of the time and help her find each hole. It would probably work better on something stiff, like cardboard.

After she was done lacing around all the edges, I made some letters with glue on each leaf of the shamrock. Caroline cut up some short strings of yarn and then put them on top of the glue letters.

Here is the back - I tied off the end of the ends of the yarn with pipe cleaners so that the yarn would stay put. I tied one end before Caroline started lacing so she wouldn't pull the yarn all the way through:

Here is the finished product. The letters stand for the three persons of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. St. Patrick supposedly used a shamrock when teaching about the trinity. It is one plant with three distinct leaves:

We hung it up on our china cabinet and set out some St. Patrick prayer cards and a card made by Caroline's Gran:

Here's a little Irish girl (well, she's 6.25% Irish as far as I can figure) who doesn't want to wear her shamrocks. This is the best picture I could get of her before she took them off:

Caroline gladly wore them instead:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Peaceful Rainy Day at Home

Some at-home days don't go nearly this peacefully - it is always nice when they do, and it is what we strive for. Monday, and it was a rainy day... sometimes those can make us stir-crazy! We went to Spanish for an hour before lunch (a friend who has a Spanish degree teaches it informally in her home), and the rest of the day was spent at home. Cecilia discovered a new activity: putting poker chips into an empty yogurt container and then pouring them out. I later found some in the next rom, under the couch... she has hoarding tendencies.

Caroline made "snowmen" with play-doh. I made a few as well - she always wants me to make things for her. I make a few and encourage her to do some herself, since working with the dough is good for her hands. The rolling of balls of dough is a good fine motor exercise.

We took a walk in the afternoon - Caroline was hoping the rain would continue to fall so she could use her umbrella, but the rain had stopped. It was still plenty wet, lots of puddles... and we carried our umbrellas just in case since the sky was still overcast. Caroline stomped in a few puddles in these hand-me-down boots that a friend gave us.

She's not really a "stomp in the puddles" kind of kid... more like a "Mommy, I have a tiny bit of food on my hand, clean it off me!" kind of kid. She found a few big puddles along our walk and gave them a couple of obligatory stomps, and then we moved on. We stopped to look at plenty of things along the way - worms, trees, things found along the edge of the street like pinecones and berries. It is nice to be able to take a leisurely walk, not trying to actually get exercise, but to just enjoy being outside.

Cecilia's Buddy

One of Cecilia's first clear words: "Pope." There is a photo of him in the vestibule at our church, and I pointed it out to Cecilia during one of the various times I ended up out there with her and told her it was the Pope. She began saying,"Pope!" enthusiastically. Now she recognizes him on this pamphlet we have, too.

She finally started saying "mama" now - after she was saying "Pope." Suddenly, she is realizing she can communicate - she says, "Dup" for cup and up (she points at the cup or clings to my legs at the same time she is speaking, so I know which one she means!). She is trying to say "Caroline" - she starts out with a hard C sound and gets out two garbled syllables. She tries to say "clothes" and "blueberry;" last night she was saying "plat" for plate. It is funny how she is saying words with the L sound - and almost making the L sound clearly! She suddenly is able to make the m, n, and g sounds. She now says "nah nah" when she wants to nurse while doing the sign for "milk" - doing this multiple times a day! And she does the "please" sign but does not say anything for "please" yet. The other day, she actually did the sign for "more" while saying"mo," and then said "dup!" while reaching up at me... "more up." Pretty clever, huh? Although she seems to think "more" can be used to express any thought that is otherwise not easy for her to express...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Lent is a time of penitential sacrifice. As Catholics, we choose something to "give up" during Lent, to sacrifice some treat that we enjoy as a way of uniting ourselves in some small way with Christ's suffering on the cross. We are to embrace our suffering in this life. This does not mean we "love" to suffer or that we actively seek out suffering constantly; rather, it means that when we do encounter difficulties in our lives, we can offer these up. We can remind ourselves of how Jesus suffered for us, and we see that suffering has redemptive value. We can also see the positives in light of our suffering - when we choose to embrace our trials and tribulations with a joyful heart, we are remembering to rejoice in all the good in our lives and that Jesus loves us! Of course, embracing our difficulties with a cheerful spirit is easier said than done. It takes persistence and prayer.

I have been thinking lately about how motherhood is also made up of much sacrifice. It can be a difficult journey at times, and there can be suffering along this journey. Any time we are involved in close personal relationships, there is the potential for suffering. But there is also the potential for much joy. During this Lenten season, one of my goals is to embrace the difficult, take pause in the menial tasks, and to cherish the good that can be found in every sacrificial moment.

Some of the difficulties with a baby or young child can include illness, lack of sleep, teething pain, clingy babies/toddlers, tantrums, whining, crying, not to mention their ever-presence and constant need for your time. As far as baby animals go, human children take the longest to reach self-sufficiency and independence. It can certainly be draining at times, especially for mothers who have little to no help. When I am faced with a difficulty, I can think of these mothers whose husbands work super-long hours, and those with no husbands at all to help and give support... and I can be grateful for my helpful and present husband and for the other support I receive from friends and extended family members, and I can offer up my difficulties for those who have it worse.

I invest a great deal of time in helping Cecilia to meet her essential needs - to eat and to sleep, namely. She spends time nursing daily, getting some nutritional as well as emotional needs met. Sometimes it is time-consuming if she wants to nurse longer than usual, or at an inconvenient time, but these moments will soon be gone, even if it doesn't seem like it now. I have the hindsight of Caroline's baby/toddlerhood to remind me of this fact. Never will my child be so completely dependent on me for her basic needs. Never again will there be a better time to teach her about relationships, about trust, about love. If I feel myself becoming irritated that she is so clingy, I have to stop myself and remember how really very little she is and how this time I spend nurturing her now is an investment in her security in her future.

If I find myself summoned back to the bedroom to help her get back to sleep (yes, many evenings she still awakens after being put to sleep initially), even numerous times... it can begin to be taxing, not being able to have any time to myself or to pursue my personal desires. But I remind myself of the choice I am making to put this investment into her babyhood. I remind myself about my desire to teach her about trust and love. I offer up my personal suffering for the good of my child. I can look down at her sleepy face as she nurses back to dreamland and cherish the warmth of her body against mine, even if I have to sit there with her for an hour. She will sleep on her own eventually. She will one day have more mature body systems and the ability to reason and think and to be able to be more independent regarding her basic needs of eating, sleeping, and hygiene. Struggle as she may to stay awake, or to resist a diaper change, or to keep throwing food on the floor, I can remain calm and gentle, helping her to learn about this world, about expectations, and about relationships. Maintaining my own sense of peace is what I strive for, and I fail at it, probably daily. But as I choose to focus on it and make it a priority, I am able to better embrace the sacrifices of mothering small children. I look to Mary, Mother of Jesus, as a model. How she must have cherished the hours spent holding, rocking, comforting, nursing her child, knowing that a "sword would pierce her heart." Sacrificing for my little ones will help me to have fewer regrets later in life. As Jesus died on the cross, how painful it must have been for his mother to witness! I am so thankful for this Lenten season, in which I can reflect on the Virgin Mother's experience, and during which I can identify with her as another mother, one who comforted her child, worried about his well-being, and worked daily for him - from preparing his meals to comforting his hurts.

This is the current season of my life. There is much giving and little taking with young children. Now is not my time for receiving, but for giving. I need to pour into these young souls so that they in turn will be able to pour out to others later in life. Sacrifice doesn't have to be a bad word - while it can be unpleasant at times, it is for much good. It is not in vain. It is done for the good of these precious little children who are on loan to me from their heavenly Father. And this time, it is certain, will pass. When I look back, it will have passed all too quickly, difficulties and all.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sentimental Sheets

So, I got this strange urge to take photos of my sheets after I'd hung them on the line to dry this past weekend. They just looked so pretty, hanging in the sun, billowing occasionally with a gentle breeze. This warmer weather we've had lately inspired me to hang them out in the spring air (maybe a bad idea for my husband and kid with allergies, though...) rather than throwing them in the dryer as we usually do. We don't use the dryer much other than for sheets, towels, some underwear/t-shirts, and rags. Everything else gets hung on the line in warmer weather or on drying racks in the sunroom when it is cold or rainy (or too late in the day to put them on the line, which happens often with my time management issues!).

The sunlight hitting them was just very appealing to me. I decided to sit outside to make my grocery list so I could see them. The girls played in the sandbox (that means that Cecilia ate the sand, of course) while I dragged a comfy pseudo-wicker chair out from the sunroom and sat sipping some earl greyer tea and making my list. Of course, the girls wanted to "help" me after a few minutes, so I sent Caroline in to get some paper and her crayons, and she made her own list while Cecilia scribbled (oh, and ate the crayons). The moment still retained some of its peacefulness nevertheless.

Here is why I titled this post "Sentimental Sheets." As I watched the sunlght hit them, my mind wandered to the origins of these bedsheets... I don't get rid of sheets unless the elastic is so shot that they won't stay on the bed. So, I think I have only thrown out one or two sets of sheets in my life. Caroline has one nice, new set of sheets that match her room. Since she slept in our room for a long time, I didn't want to get any new sheets for her until she was in her own room and could help decide on the room decor. So, we put our old, comfy sheets from college on her twin mattress. Funny that Chris and I each had a dark green set - his was checked and mine was solid green. So, hanging those sheets on the line brought back memories of college and sleeping in my loft bed. Our dorm rooms had heaters hanging up near the ceilings, and I would just turn the heat up and climb up into the loft, which was at the same level as the heater, and I'd just burrow down as the heat blasted - so cozy.

The Snoopy sheet closest to the camera is quite the antique. It was my brother Stephen's when he was a kid - a very young kid, maybe four. He's 27 now, ha ha. These sheets were so 80s... modeled after the Atari or an 80s video arcade, huh? I had some feminine Snoopy sheets when I was a kid - they were pink. Not sure what happened to them, but these survived and have been passed down to the next generation. Well, one of them has. This is the top, flat sheet. The fitted sheet is gone because it had holes in it, according to my mom. I also don't know where the pillow case is. But no matter, we have two or three random unmtched pillowcases that I aquired here and there. One is Winnie-the-Pooh, another is The Lion King, which belonged to my youngest brother (now 19). I went out and bought two plain white fitted sheets, so the Snoopy sheet is used on top of a plain fitted sheet.

And, laugh if you may at the tackiness of this 80s sheet, but keep in mind: 1. it was free, 2. it is a bedsheet on a kid's bed, not a wall hanging in the living room, and 3. you will not find a softer sheet. Anywhere. Ever. Being washed 78,371 times produces this pleasant result of softness. I wish this sheet fit my bed!

My bed has four sets of sheets that we have owned since I got our queen size bed a few months before we were married. Twenty more years and those things are going to feel GREAT! ;)

Ahh, one last shot of the sheets billowing in the breeze... and this was a week after the snow. I think there is a hard freeze in the forecast for next week, too. My sheets and I have enjoyed the glimpse of spring!

Making Pretzels

I have never made homemade soft pretzels before, so I thought we'd give it a whirl using the recipe for whole wheat pretzels from my King Arthur Flour whole grain cookbook. Pretzels are a traditional Lenten food because it used to be that people abstained from milk, butter, and eggs during Lent, none of which are needed to make pretzels. Now, this particular recipe did call for a tablespoon of butter and an egg wash... so, not exactly accurate on my part...

Here's an action shot of my mixer working on the dough. Cecilia likes to watch the mixer work... I guess it does look pretty neat when I stop to think about it.

Here's how the pretzel dough looks when it is completely mixed, all nice and smooth. Next, it went into the oven with the light turned on to rise for nearly two hours.

Here's Caroline helping to form the pretzels. The dough was really tough to work with - it was hard to roll it out into a long strip because it was of an odd consistency that didn't really want to stretch out very long. Caroline made "snakes" - a mommy snake, two kid snakes (one a nursing baby snake - I didn't bother trying to explain that I don't think snakes nurse ;), and then a daddy snake. We also made a fish shape and the letter C in addition to the regular pretzel shapes.

Here they are, cooking in the oven before it caught fire. Yes, you read that correctly: the oven caught fire. There was sweet potato goo on the bottom of the oven that had dripped down the last time we baked them, and that caught on fire since the oven was so hot (450 degrees). There was plenty of smoke, Caroline was despairing that her snakes were ruined, and I was a little frantic because of the unexpectedness of the situation. The fire burned itself out and the pretzels were removed from the oven... they were pretty ashy, so they were a lost cause.

But did that stop us?? No! I made the dough recipe again the next morning, and Caroline and I yet again made pretzels and then baked them in the (now clean) oven - thanks, hubby! They were nice and warm for lunch.

And Caroline didn't even eat her entire pretzel for lunch, nor has she asked for another one as a snack, and it has been five days ago that we made these... and Cecilia chewed up a few pieces of pretzel and promptly spit them out after they got to a gummy consistency. She sure ate plenty of the raw dough beforehand, so I don't know why she didn't like them baked! Oh well, I have been enjoying them, and the process of making them is what will be memorable for Caroline.