Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Paint with Water

With a HUGE thank-you to my home schooling mentor, 
who gave me these and other no-mess activities for free. 
I'm not sure who is more excited about our new treasures!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sacred, Profane, and Everything In Between

Guest post by Jeremy, as you'll probably figure out quickly. If you're not up for a frank discussion on profanity, come back Wednesday and there will be more pictures of the kids.

"...when you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer it's nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, "Oh, random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!" or "Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept on a crutch!” - Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Our attempt to rid our home of works that take the Lord's name in vain has made me much more conscious of minced oaths. For those unfamiliar, a minced oath is a euphemism for something more offensive, and in this case I'm referring to modifications to blaspheming or other divine invocations. Much as I experienced when we first started paying more attention to taking the Lord's name in vain, I had been dimly aware of how commonplace minced oaths are in our society, but I hadn't processed their near-ubiquity, especially if you give the ones that are just used as general exclamations any thought.

The etymology of some was obvious; as the old joke says, heck is where you go when you don't believe in gosh. What I didn't realize until recently is that a large number of these "light curse" exclamations have an origin in the sacred. "Gee whiz" is derived from "Jesus' wisdom" - and all of the "gee" or "jeez" expressions seem to trace back to God and/or Jesus. "For crying out loud" developed from "for Christ's sake". "Bejeezes" hardly even qualifies as minced, but I'm embarrassed to say I never really gave it any consideration. "Good grief" refers to Christ's suffering, as does "suffering succotash", if there are any Looney Tunes fans out there. Even if you want to get cute and use antiquated and/or ones from other English speaking cultures, many of those have problematic origins; "bloody" started as a contraction of "by Our Lady", egad was "oh God", zounds used to be pronounced differently as a shortening of "God's wounds", gadzooks was "God's hooks" in reference to the nails on the cross, jeepers creepers...

And then there's this guy. Conscience, indeed.

All that is just a partial list, but thinking along those lines has also made me realize there are probably others. Some sources have "great Scott" as a derivation of "good God"; this makes me wonder about, for instance, "oh, man" (though a cursory search didn't bring me anything conclusive on that one). When it comes down to it, almost all the minced oaths I hear commonly (and many that, by consequence, I say myself) can be traced back to God. Even "oh my" when it stands alone - what's the implied ending there?

What does that actually mean as far as taking action? It's a grey area; I certainly wouldn't be the first religious person to reject minced oaths in their entirety, yet there are entire faiths (at least Judaism) that thrive on minced oaths even in sacred settings. I'm not thrilled with the concept, but I'm also not ready to say I think they're out-and-out wrong. Even if I was, that brings me back to the quote at the start of this post - what should I say when I hit my thumb with a hammer? Blaspheming at gods I don't believe in isn't a great option; I suppose the Marvel movies have made "by Odin's beard!" more socially acceptable, but it would've been hard for it to be much less. Some of you are probably thinking that it would be easier to say nothing, but I haven't really found that viable either. There's some scientific suggestion that swearing is part of a deep-rooted emotional response to stress for some people, and my personal experience has suggested that people who have sheltered themselves from "harder" profanity tend to use the "softer" stuff with the same zeal and connotation.

To that end, I do think I'm personally at the point where I find "shit" less offensive than "gosh", as the former is an arbitrarily profane name for a biological function and the latter is a just-barely veiled slight against the creator of the universe. However, I am very well aware that practically no one, including the usual author of this blog, agrees with me on this point, and I don't wish to cause discord, especially not over something I'm not even confident is an issue of any significance.

Liana has no problem with these minced oaths; she believes their use, even when conscious of the origin, represents a desire to avoid the offense and therefore is acceptable. I'm not so sure, but either way I'm willing to go with that for the time being, if only for social convenience. Even if I'm "right", I don't suspect it's a battle worth fighting with anyone; there are much more important things about being a Christian, and perhaps even few things less important. If nothing else, having examined this aspect of my life has made me even more conscious of my word choices - and that alone has, I think, made the exercise worthwhile.

Jeremy is aware that "bloody" is considered vulgar in the UK, but in the US it's essentially used as a minced oath, so it seemed to warrant inclusion.

Friday, August 22, 2014

7QT (Vol. 99): Baptism party, our international student, and future gymnast

Happy 4th anniversary of baptism, Peter! We had a small, fun party this evening with all the grandparents, my brother with his family, and a brief visit from one of our parish priests. He was invited by red panda, who thought Peter would like to see him. We lit Peter's baptismal candle, sang a blessing song Mom and I learned from the Sisters of Mercy, and enjoyed yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting. Yum!

Heesu brought gifts for all of us, including this model airplane (Korean Air) for Peter. He is thrilled with it and very proud of his work assembling it. He is being very careful to keep it out of Anne's reach and would prefer it to be in his sight at all times. :-)

One of our only concerns when we signed up to host an international student was that our student would not like our kids. That is not remotely true! It brings me such joy to see Heesu being so patient with them. Tonight, she taught Seal (Peter's nickname for his sea lion - very confusing) how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb on the piano, holding Seal's flipper to play one note at a time. We are blessed.

Anne has also taken very strongly to her, lighting up whenever Heesu enters the room. I think my kids are going to be very disappointed when she is at school all day!

Anne is a climber, finding innovative ways to get what she wants. Just this week she realized she is strong enough to push her high chair around the kitchen, so no counters are safe any more. I think she will excel when she is old enough to start gymnastics. Allow me to present the following two exhibits.

 Hanging from the shark cage at the aquarium - with pointed toes.

Front support on the shelf - I think she is supporting some weight with her right toes, but still.

Read more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Monday, August 18, 2014

Life as a Host Family!

We love our exchange student. She is very social, positive, and enthusiastic. She seems to really like our kids; they both adore her. Anne actually started crying tonight at dinner when H got up from the table momentarily. (We still haven't talked about online privacy, so no name or picture yet.)

H started tennis practice today. With one car, this makes life interesting. We took Jeremy to work, went with H to complete her medical forms and drop her off at practice, went to the playground, picked up H, went home (where everyone napped except Peter), drove back to pick up Jeremy. Phew! We are very happy to say that one of the other girls on the tennis team lives three miles away from us, so we have coordinated some carpooling for the remaining practices before school begins.

H is working against some intense jet lag, but otherwise seems to be settling in very well. She is enjoying decorating her room and has picked out some meals for this week. Last night, we took her to a frozen yogurt place as part of the walking tour of our village; she was delighted. Today, I told her how much I was looking forward to learning with her, talking about her assignments. She replied, "I think it is a very good thing that you have me." I think so, too!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

7QT (Vol. 98): Adorable Kid Moments

Lots of my online time this past week has been spent updating the website for the homeschool group to which I belong. Unfortunately, it is all on the "private side" of the site, so I can't even show you how awesome I am! ;-) Also, it means my blogging has suffered a bit. I'll let the kids write this one.

Dad's story: "Once there was a hawk who was looking for lunch. He didn't want a mouse or a chipmunk, but eventually he found a peach tree. He swooped down, sunk his talons, and was very surprised that the peach wouldn't come off the tree. It wasn't ripe. He decided to stay there, hanging upside down by his talons, until it ripened. He stayed there for two weeks, then ate it. He liked it so much, he wanted to eat peaches all year."

Peter's story: "Once there was a toucan who was looking for lunch. He didn't want a mouse or a chipmunk, but eventually he found a pear tree. He swooped down, sunk his talons, and was very surprised that the pear wouldn't come off the tree. It wasn't ripe. He decided to stay there, hanging upside down by his talons, until it ripened. He stayed there for two weeks, then a hawk ate him."

Peter (who says /w/ in place of /r/) decided to teach Anne some words while we were driving:
P: Anne, say doggy.
A: Dah-ee
P: Say oak twee.
A: Oh tee
P: Say cahw (car)
A: Moo
P: No. Say cahw.
A: Moo
P: Anne, no! Say caahhwww.
A: Moooooo
I finally took pity on him and prompted her myself to say car. :-)

Our exchange student arrives tomorrow! Peter has been looking forward to her arrival all week. We've been trying to get the house clean and in order, pretending it is always like this. Today I enlisted the kids to help me clean the bathroom. Anne climbed into the tub with a rag sock and rubbed the baking soda and vinegar. Peter asked if he could help with the sink. "I don't like getting into things I am cleaning."

When I snuck into Anne's room tonight to grab the baby monitor, she rolled over (in her sleep) and said, "Papa?" She sure loves him!

He loves his red panda from Uncle Keith!

Find more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One Weird Trick for Cleaner Seats

25c floor mat from a thrift store.
Tuck one end between the car seat and the upholstery.
Keep shoe dirt off your car!

Throwback Weds: Peter helping Grandpa dismantle the table for our move.

Throwback Weds: Anne when she was still sporting the two pigtail look.

Inclusive Parenting

Many school districts have inclusive, co-taught classrooms as a special education program. These classrooms are at least 50% mainstream students mixed with children who qualify for special education. The classes are co-taught by a general ed. teacher and special ed. teacher. I've seen this model work exceptionally well, integrating special needs into a typical classroom environment and enriching the education of all the students.

Unfortunately, the children with special needs who are included in school are often excluded in the "real world". Parents of typical children are uncomfortable or unsure of how to practice inclusive parenting. What if the autistic boy down the street starts flapping his hands? What would we possibly do with that little girl from dance class who refuses to talk? How can the kids go in and out of the house when a visitor uses a wheelchair?

We take the easy route. We assure ourselves that those parents are making sure their kids socialize, and really we'd just be bothering them. We remind ourselves about our lack of experience with special needs. We say it's in everyone's best interest because we wouldn't know what to do in an emergency.

Meanwhile, parents of children with special needs feel isolated and rejected. They know others are uncomfortable around their kids and don't want to impose. They are tired of people staring at their family and judging their parenting skills. They sometimes wish that life could be normal.

What can we do?

Smile and start a conversation. About what? Anything! This is another parent; you already have something in common. "She sure is enjoying the music today!" "Isn't it great to get the kids outside?" Parents of young children often long for adult conversation because they feel trapped at home. So do parents of children with special needs.

Initiate a get-together. The best way to learn how to interact with this child is to see him with his parents. Invite parent and child to your house and add, "or we could come to you if that would be easier." Be willing to make multiple overtures as his parents might be reluctant to believe your offer is genuine.

Don't take it personally. You might have several broken dates. The child might be having a bad day or get too nervous or have some other complication. Accept whatever reason is given without trying to read more into it. Maybe they just forgot! (Hey, these parents are human too!)

Get information from the source. If you will be having the child over to your house without her parent, ask any questions ahead of time. Don't trust the internet for an explanation of symptoms. Each child is unique and any disability will be expressed in different ways. You might say, "Is there anything I can do to make Sally more comfortable?" or "What types of activities does Joey like at home?" These give parents an opening to share relevant information and let them know you care about their child.

Be honest. If there is a particular behavior that concerns you, talk about it. "I'm never sure when Alex is flapping his hands if he's upset or excited. Should I intervene when that happens?" "I know Danielle is still learning how to control herself when she's upset. What's the best way for me to keep everyone safe if something happens?" It may feel awkward, because we've all been taught not to discuss other's disabilities, but most parents will appreciate your honesty and willingness to be accommodating.

Enjoy! You and your children can benefit in huge ways from this friendship. You learn how to see the world from another perspective, how to put others' needs first, and how to look beyond first impressions. As a parent, you can get great ideas for streamlining your life from your new friend (because if anyone needs to know tricks to save time and reduce stress, it's parents of kids with special needs!). Finally, your child makes a new friend -- one who can sing beautifully or tell amazing stories or teach you all you need to know about computer programming or respond with compassion or hundreds of other things! You'll never know until you take the first step.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where does your community live?

Guest post by Jeremy before he forgets the recent events that moved him to want to write.

After we decided not to move halfway across the country, I entered an "OK, God, now what?" period. I've had a few of these before - my freshman year of college when I hated both the school and my major and shortly before college graduation when the job I'd lined up fell through both come to mind - but this one has been different. In both of the above situations, I essentially made a snap decision (transferring and following my girlfriend to Buffalo, respectively) which worked out fairly well and, because they involved a dramatically different environment, forced me to change simultaneously.

Obviously had to follow this lady.

In some ways, this period has been the exact opposite: my original issue was with my environment, and that has generally remained the same, so I suspect that's why it's been much more difficult to figure out what to do - and, at 9 months and counting, been much longer lasting.

I've had a few friends move into the area, so my social life has slightly improved, but none of them share my faith, and I know that the lack of spiritual connection I've had since college has been a significant contributor to my dissatisfaction with the area. Liana has had great experiences with the Moms group, but there's been very little interest among their husbands in any sort of gathering. Our new town has been friendlier and the general vibe of our new parish has been more welcoming, but I've still not been able to meaningfully connect with anyone. All of the failed attempts at finding community from before we decided to move still loomed large, and I was reluctant to put myself out there yet again.

Two weeks ago, I attended a Cursillo Weekend. I stumbled upon this inadvertently when I found a group posted on a Syracuse men's conference website that formed out of people who have attended these weekends, so I went with my lowered expectations with the goal of finding at least one person with whom I could connect. "Lowered" isn't entirely accurate - I had no idea whatsoever what to expect. They were a little more secretive about it than I was comfortable with, to the point that I didn't want to go other than as a means to the end of trying to meet people.

It's not exactly a retreat; the leadership will hastily correct you if you refer to it as such and say that it's a "movement", but I don't think that's a helpful descriptor either. The word "cursillo" is Spanish for "short course", and that's precisely what it is: a roughly 40 hour series of talks over the course of a single weekend. (Since I don't suspect most people would voluntarily attend a series of 15-hour-day classes, I'm not surprised they prefer "movement".) The talks are all given by local members of the leadership, both ordained and laypeople, and give a pretty high-level overview of aspects of the good Christian life, interspersed with stories from their personal experiences. There wasn't anything there I hadn't heard before from a theological standpoint, but some things were a good reminder, and it was packaged better than most conferences I've attended over the years.

I don't think it's for everyone, but I'm glad that I went. There were positive and negative things about it, but I think the good outweighed the bad. Some of the things that bothered me were apparent during the weekend, and others came to light after the fact when I found out the degree to which the weekend is scripted. Even little things that I had assumed were personality quirks of the leaders or simply incidental seem to have been preordained, and controlling the experience that tightly bothers me. I suppose since my attendance was rather Machiavellian, I can't judge them too harshly for taking the same approach - but at least I was up front about it when asked.

I still couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me the most until I was reading a discussion online about it. One of the more vocal critics was claiming, among other points, that Cursillistas (those who have attended Cursillo) are more connected to each other than to their parishes. One of the defenders of the "movement" told this story: their spouse was about to have surgery, and they contacted their parish and local Cursillo chapter. The parish did nothing; the Cursillistas brought meals and came to pray with and for the person before and after the surgery. If the connection is stronger, they concluded, it's because the faith is greater.

It was then that I realized that my problem wasn't exactly with Cursillo, but with our parishes.

If our parishes were doing their job, things like Cursillo wouldn't exist, because they wouldn't need to.

Liana doesn't have any interest in getting involved with Cursillo, but she's getting pretty much all of the same benefits out of the Moms group - which was founded because of one mother's inability to make meaningful connections at her parish. I don't want to romanticize the past - I genuinely have no idea if parishes ever had more than a small percentage of active participants - but I'm pretty sure that they were communities at one time, and not necessarily even that long ago. Nature abhors a vacuum, and apparently the Church does as well, since these other groups have rushed in to fill this void.

This reminds me of a coffee hour I was at once.

The most common sentiment about Cursillo I found online was something like: "I don't know that I like all the aspects, but I usually judge these things by their fruits, and I've seen some really great fruits come from folks who're involved with Cursillo." This is about where I'm at as well. In a lot of ways, I did get what I wanted from the weekend. This week will be the second meeting of our new men's group at our parish. I've also found a great community-within-a-community at the 6:45 daily Mass, which I would not ever have considered attending had I not been encouraged to do so during the weekend. I'd been hoping to find some people my age, and still haven't, but the vast majority at least don't treat me like a child, so I'll consider that a victory.

If nothing else, I got to spent a weekend with 50 other men honestly trying to grow their spirituality. The weekend ended with a Mass where hundreds of men and women from all over the diocese came to celebrate with us, and had palpable joy and enthusiasm.

When was the last time you saw something like that at your parish?

Friday, August 8, 2014

7QT (Vol. 97): Good friends, surly dogs, and sleep

Every month, a few members of our Catholic moms group meet to pray together, eat tasty treats, and share stories and laughter. Tonight was that night. It is such a balm for my soul to be with like-minded moms, knowing we are going through similar things, sharing our joys and sorrows.

A couple of them commented that I'm social, despite my self-description as introverted. The thing is, socializing is stressful for me largely because I am afraid of not having anything interesting to say or making someone uncomfortable. With this group of ladies, especially when there are just a few rather than a big group, it's not stressful. Conversation just flows easily from funny stories to struggles to practical advice. I don't feel like I'm auditioning or entertaining. So with them, yes, I am social.

Do you ever call your child the wrong name? I do, even though there are only two of them. It's ok, though, because Peter also mixes up the names of his parents and grandparents, which sometimes amuses Anne.
P: Mommy, what story were you telling?
me: I wasn't telling any story; that was Daddy.
P: Right, that's what I meant. Only sometimes I forget his name.
A (triumphantly): Ha ha! Daddy!


I don't know. Jeremy and I wake every morning with our heads on our pillows and the rest of us in bed under the covers, so I assume it is not genetic. Or maybe we just outgrew it? :-)

We have ambitious plans to remove the wallpaper in the kids' rooms and repaint. Anne sort of forced our hand on this one by starting the wallpaper removal for us. Oh well, it was peeling anyway. I'm going to take the kids away from the steamer and paint fumes tomorrow and let Jeremy work in peace. He got a little bit done tonight while I was praying and socializing, thanks to our friends from church who came over to play with the kids.

We got Babe: The Gallant Pig (King-Smith) out of the library. It is excellent. Have you seen the movie? You know, the one that takes God's name in vain and has the neurotic duck, whiny grandkids, and surly male dog? (And I liked the movie!) The book has none of that. It is simply a wonderful tale. The author has a handful of other stories in our library system; I plan to check out a few in the near future.

P: Hello, doggy! (pause) Why didn't he answer?
me: Maybe he just doesn't have anything to say.
P: But he didn't even say hello. Not even one bark of dogness!

7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Mommy Makes Dinner

My husband almost always makes dinner, often while keeping both kids engaged in the process and out of trouble. When Mommy makes dinner... well, at least I get some cute pictures from it.

What, Mommy? I'm not eating anything.

Oh these? I just found them in that cupboard, so I assumed they were for snack.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our Siren Psalm

As an elementary student in a Catholic school, I was taught to say a prayer for whomever was involved every time I heard a siren. Although our school was situated on a busy intersection, our teachers would pause their lesson for every emergency vehicle. Some would lead us in a brief prayer, many would simply give us a moment of silence to offer our own prayers.

I lost the habit for awhile, in part because I didn't know what to say. The prayers offered on behalf of a child in respiratory distress would be significantly different from prayers offered as police respond to a homicide.

At some point when Peter was an infant, I read through the Liturgy of the Hours in one of my prayer books. The opening prayer struck me as a solution to my loss for words. In our family, we now say the following prayer - a slight variation of Psalm 70:1 - whenever we hear a siren:

God, come to their assistance.
Lord, make haste to help them.

Friday, August 1, 2014

7QT (Vol. 96): Recommended Bible Stories and Read-alouds for Children

You know why bloggers love to have questions from their readers? It's not really about the validation that someone does indeed read what we write, though admittedly it is a nice ego boost. But primarily, we love questions because it gives us something about which to write when we stumble to the computer at 10:30 pm! So, many thanks to Ginny who asked if I had a children's Bible to recommend. We don't use a Bible with our kids right now, but I do have some collections to recommend.

My favorite Bible for young children (ages two to six?) is My First Bible in Pictures by Kenneth Taylor. First of all, it is beautiful, which is important for little ones. The book is alternating pages of text and full-page pictures by Richard and Frances Hook. It contains 125 Bible stories, including some of the more challenging ones like Cain and Abel. It does not include the sacrifice of Isaac, which I appreciate. One of the best things about this Bible is that each one-page story concludes with a very simple comprehension question.

Illustrator: Richard Hook

Another collection I recommend is Tomie dePaola's Book of Bible Stories. This collection of stories and a few Psalms uses the NIV translation, which I wouldn't recommend for Scripture study, but is accessible for children while still conveying the important Truth of the stories. These stories have also been chosen to be short enough for young children. I would recommend this for children ages four through... ten? It is verbatim selections from the Bible, so it's not like we outgrow reading them. At the same time, older children should be encouraged to read the stories in context.

The last collection of Bible stories we use for our kids at this time is 101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories, which is currently out of print. This is definitely a loose translation of Scripture, truly a read-aloud story rather than a Bible excerpt. The stories have a few illustrations and take about ten minutes to read. The longer stories do challenge the attention span of most little ones, so I would recommend this for ages five and up. It is a nice option for reading to children of various ages.

Speaking of reading aloud, I have really been enjoying reading to Peter recently. While we still do quite a few picture books, he has become interested in longer stories, too. Our first chapter book was Charlotte's Web, which was one of my favorites as a child. I wondered how my sensitive little guy would do with (spoiler alert) Charlotte's death, but he seemed to accept it as part of the story. When we finished, he immediately asked to read it again! For reading aloud to little ones, it is definitely worth getting a hardcover copy. It stays open much more easily.

We also have a collection of Winnie the Pooh stories, The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, which our whole family loves. Anne likes seeing the animals, Peter likes the stories, and Jeremy and I appreciate the sophisticated humor that goes right over Peter's head. I must say, though, that I get a bit teary during the last story in House at Pooh Corner, so ready yourself for that one. :-)

Just this past week, we started - and have almost finished - The Original Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. Peter likes the adventures, which have just a hint of danger (like when Raggedy Andy gets stuck in a drainpipe) without enough to scare him. There are fewer illustrations in this collection, but he is interested enough in the story without pictures to attract his attention. Your turn: what book should we read next?

Read more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary