Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We drive home; groceries spill out of bags; wipers slap raindrops and Kirk Douglas is on stage remembering his father in Before I Forget. He talks slowly, fighting stroke-impaired muscles to transfer thought to voice. (Here I paraphrase.) "My father wasn't around much when I was a boy," he says. "When we moved, he chose not to come along. But once, when I was five, I was in a play and my dad came to see me. He didn't say anything about my performance but after the show was over, he bought me an ice cream cone and that, that was my Oscar."

The wipers slap, a spearmint plant slides off the front seat and I calculate the years. Ninety-two minus five. Eighty-seven years. Eighty-seven years later Kirk Douglas remembers the one time he knew he mattered to his dad. I drive by the Gas and Go where the men loiter with bottles wrapped in paper bags. I drive through the section of town where men sit on porches. All day they sit, play cards. I drive past the school where a long line of women wait to pick up children after work and take those children home to a fatherless house. Dads are a rare breed in my little town.

I remembered these things this weekend when we went to see Joe.


Joe is a friend and a father to three. His wife left but Joe stayed and now he raises these three children on his own. He has a good job, he just earned his MBA but these things are not the things that impress. Joe and I left the kids with Stuart and took Joe's truck to make a pizza run after he gave his stick-to-the-plan child (Plan A was barbeque) a heads up about Plan B. I stood in the driveway waiting while he shuffled art projects, Barbies and sports equipment out of my seat. His car looks like mine. He cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast. When his daughter's hair slid out of her ponytail, he fixed it. He brushed yellow tufts from the shedding dog and called to the speedy pianist in the next room, "Slow down. You're not supposed to rush through that piece." He refereed turn taking with the Wii. His house is filled with children's art taped to the walls and photos on the fridge. It feels homey at Joe's house.


We drove away Sunday afternoon while Joe herded his kids into the house for a quick rest before a game of golf. It is good to know that there are still men in this world who are do not rage against becoming an adult, who choose to be selfless. I smiled the whole way home comforted with the knowledge that Joe's kids will not have to make do with the memory of a single ice cream cone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

That I Might Not Sin

"Here, John, take these words, go sit down at the keyboard and see what you can do with them."

We fall short when it comes to scripture memory. The older kids spent a few years competing in Bible Drill...a big event in these parts...but eventually they decided that their accomplishments and trophies were only building up their pride, not their hearts, so we dropped it. And after that we didn't bother to commit anything to heart.

And there is this: I have a battle with my tongue. Sharp, ugly words bubble over at the slightest provocation. Faith has decided to take me on during our prayer times. "Please help Mama not to swear. Please help Mama to use good words." (Nothing like seeing that in black and white!) Something has to be done and since the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart, we tackle the heart of the problem.


John takes the verse and sits down at the keyboard and whips up a tune to go with the words. His work is beautiful! We gather in his bedroom and he leads us, voice cracking, piano humming, planting good words. Lauren asks for a verse and she steals minutes when she can, matching notes and words, writing notes on blank sheet music. And then Faith tries her hand at this. And Claire (with a little help. It is her song on the chalkboard.)


Now we sing as we work, new words, instructive, joyful words. Even Charlie. And I hope. I hope this is the way, the way to crowd out the weeds of sin by filling our hearts to overflowing with God's Word.


For additional encouragment and other approaches to hiding God's Word in your heart see here (There's a lot!) and here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Setting the Table

Growing up with seven brothers, a pretty table was only for special occasions so it was a novelty to pull out the placemats and candles for every meal when Stuart and I were first married. Then we had children. Getting dinner on the table became an accomplishment unto itself and the placemats went by the wayside. Spilled milk and sippy cups took their place. Pans went straight from stove to table between the milk jug and ketchup bottle. I didn't mind. We were eating.


But we're well past the sippy cup stage and meal time has remained akin to feeding animals at the zoo and I've felt the need to encourage manners. It's hard to do that when the table looks like a cafeteria so we've made a few changes.

Milk goes from plastic to pitcher. Condiments are served in little glass bowls and the meal is ladled into serving dishes. It feels less like a commercial when the table is word free. Cream looks like art in glass. Much better than in its blue cardboard container with a nutritional label on its hind end. I still don't have time to set the table but the children do and now they know how to do it well and they like looking at the work of their hands when they are finished.

Sometimes they even break out the camera to record their handiwork.
After some coaxing, the children are remembering to put their napkins in their laps. Our beautiful table is making them think about manners. We are enjoying a little more conversation and a little less foolish noise. Only a little, but enough to make this extra effort worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Good Books

A few weeks ago I read this statement from a fellow homeschooling blogger, "We have a big stack of Mike Venezia books from the library at the moment and I don’t have to “make” the kids read them; they just do (quite often when they are supposed to be doing something else." This intrigued me. Mike Venezia is the author of several series of books, among them, Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers. We've been busy painting and composing here so I have been feeling like a little art and music history might be in order. And here was an endorsement about books that are so good they magnetically attract children away from other tasks. I had to check them out.

So, I went to the library, the big library, and found the skinny art section. Two books on photography, one on origami, and...and that was all. I did the next best thing, grabbed up my free Amazon coupons and Lauren helped me decide which ten books to order. "No Picasso. No Warhol. No Jackson Pollock. I only like realistic paintings!" We fired off that order via the internet and yesterday, the Bleeping Mail Lady, (named by Stuart because of her preference of horn over doorbell) honked the arrival of our package.

The children dashed in with the box and pouted because they couldn't open it until they finished up their last bits of science and writing. Fifteen minutes later, they pounced on the box.

Unfortunately, I forgot to make cleaning up the living room part of the precursor to opening the box, so they laid down in the midst of their school books and their doll house toys and began to read. A hush settled over the room. I was the only one making any noise and that was because I was reading Rembrant aloud to Charlie. The whole thing. He wanted to know if the people in The Night Watch were real; he wanted to count all the dogs in the paintings. He wanted to match the cartoon people to their counterparts in the real paintings. Then he wanted to get down because we had read for a long time.

Claire picked up the book on Grandma Moses. After a minute or two, she said, "Mama! Her paintings look like the pictures in the Will Moses book that we have!" She studied the paintings for another minute and then ran down the hall and came back with the Will Moses book and laid the two books side by side and matched similar parts of several paintings. She laid on her belly for a long time looking.


Lauren read them all. She read through chore time and wandered away from the table after dinner to read some more. She wants me to order the rest of the series. And there are even more series on the presidents and inventors and scientists!

Our candlelight question last night...Which artist did you enjoy studying the most and why? The conversation included realism, pointillism, impressionism, Cassatt, Homer ("The way he paints the sea, Mama, it's so real!") and Saurat...until Stuart said it was late and we needed to get to bed. When I went to wake up children this morning, I found two or three already awake and immersed in another art book.

The books are a mix of the artist's works, silly cartoons, and a brief history of the artist's life. Everything on the pages is appropriate for children. Run to your library and search for these. Hopefully, you live closer to a well-stocked library that we do but, if not, these are well worth adding to your personal collection.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Big Snow

John comes into our bedroom after midnight. "It's snowing!"

We have a hard time working up much enthusiasm on account of the late hour and the fact that southern snow is just a tease. We're New Yorkers and haven't seen a good snow in all the years we've lived south of Mr. Mason Dixson. "Go back to bed," Stuart grumbles at John and we scooch together and sleep.

This morning, I feel around the nightstand for glasses and stumble groggy from bedroom past white windows. White. Snow stayed and piled up. Piled up.


"Stuart! Stuart!" I shake him frantically out of sleep. Get the camera! It snowed! I'm going to wake up kids." He looks at me with squinty eyes like I've lost my mind but moves quick for one woken rudely out of sound sleep.

The kids pile out of their beds and put on woefully inadequate snowgear; they wade into snow and troll puddles for it has rained nearly half a foot in the last few days. They forgo breakfast for time is short. The Sunday morning stillness is trampled by noisy pelters flinging balls and sculpting white. A snowman! Charlie has never seen this much snow and Claire doesn't remember Rhode Island winters.


All too soon, it is time to come in, sop out of wet clothes and bemoan the fact that no one has any dry shoes. We go to church where kids shuck wet footwear and when we come out again the snow is gone but there is no sorrow because this morning there was snow. Packing, perfect snow.