Saturday, August 30, 2014

Good Gracious Green Chile

This, friends, is what a miracle looks like:  a group of people, gathered outside of a grocery store on a beautiful late summer afternoon, roasting green chiles, in upstate New York.  When I saw the sign proclaiming an upcoming  "Hatch Green Chile Roasting Event!" at my favorite grocery store, I could hardly believe my eyes.  What?  Here?  I almost wept.  Yesterday, we pulled into the parking lot and made all the kids get out of the car to stand in the pathway of the smoke coming from the roaster and breathe in deep.  It was glorious and wonderful and beautiful, and I didn't even bother to tell the lady in the sombrero that serving cut up slices of green chile on tortilla chips topped with jarred black bean salsa was kinda strange.  "Let me try some of the 'hot,'" I said, "No salsa."  The taste of home flooded my mouth and I grinned.  Did I buy a case?  You bet your chile burger deluxe I did!  

Growing Up Too: Remembering The Salad Years

It dawned on The Mr. and me over this last week, that it was 20 years ago that we began our freshman years at Wheaton College.  Ho boy, how time flies...

Part of what prompted this reflection was discovering this archive of episodes of "The Salad Years" on vimeo.  Unless you were a Wheaton student of a certain era (namely, mine) you probably won't find them even remotely funny.  If you were, then they are.  Remotely funny, that is.  But, if you can get beyond the hopelessly outdated production and the dorky, only-from-a-Christian-school-humor, and the perms and baggy clothes, maybe you'll get a glimpse of what life was like for us, all those 20 years ago.  Life really was pretty sweet.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Growing Up

Perhaps it is the advent of a new baby in the house.  Perhaps it is another summer drawing regretfully to a close and a new school year looming close.  Perhaps it is just that I'm paying attention for the moment.  Whatever it is, I've been struck recently by how all of our kids seem to be growing up all of a sudden.  It's a bittersweet revelation.

Take this guy for instance:

Probably many parents can relate to this, but my first glimpse of him after the baby was born was almost like looking at a stranger.  He just seemed so big!  I looked at his hands and his feet which suddenly seemed enormous and asked him, "When, exactly, did you grow up?"  He just shrugged and said, "I don't know."  He celebrated his sixth birthday not long ago, and talks with knowing airs about being a Tiger scout and starting first grade.  My baby no more!

And this guy:

He was away at his first overnight camp when the baby came, and when the Mr. smuggled him into the hospital after visiting hours the next night, he was grubby and elated and seemed to have aged about five years in three days.  Not long after that, he sold all his stuffed animals to his siblings (save the one special teddy who he said he thought should be put away in his baby box) and cut his own fingernails for the first time.  It occurred to me the other day that his time in our house (assuming that he goes to college when he's 18) is already more than half over.  My heart broke a little.

And then there's this girl (the big one):

Not only has she become her sister's "adorer-in-chief", but she slid easily into the role of Mom's big helper, running to fetch diapers, clothes, mislaid socks, and holding the baby at every available opportunity.  Yesterday, she scrubbed out the bathroom sink with an old toothbrush and swept and mopped the kitchen floor, without being asked.  Like I said, this growing up business is bitter, and sweet.

And, of course, we can't forget her: 

At three weeks + a bit, she is already different from how she started, growing longer and rounder and lovelier by the day.  We think we may see the glimmer of a smile starting to play around her mouth. Tomorrow she may be painting her toenails or packing her bags for college.  We'll just have to try not to blink.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What's Making Us Happy This Week

We're all at least a little bit in love. . .

But then again, wouldn't you be???

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week

1.  Track and Field -- It has been so much fun to watch Iain and Ana enjoying a youth track club this spring.  They've gotten to try sprints, distance running, high jump, long jump, shot put, and javelin and have been able to enjoy being relatively successful.  After all, every kid can run and jump and throw stuff, right?  For a family that doesn't love baseball or lacrosse, track has been a welcome change of pace.

2.  OK Go and Other Creative Types -- Have you see this video for the song "The Writing's On the Wall" by OK Go?  You should watch it and be amazed.  Keep in mind it was filmed in real time, with one camera, and none of the effects are computer-generated.  The fact that there are people in the world doing work this creative and energetic is encouraging to me.  (After you watch the first once, you should also watch this video which is a "making of" and shows how they managed to pull some of visual effects off.)   

3.  Summertime, And the Livin' is Easy -- What else says summer like a blanket on the grass and your big sister reading you a book?  

3.  ...and More Summertime -- Probably one of my favorite things about living here is being able to go berry picking in the summer.  We are right in the midst of strawberry season and life is sweet.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

In Defense of a Little Twaddle: Nancy Drew Days, Encyclopedia Brown, and Chuck

Some would call Harry Potter twaddle.  Not me.
One of my favorite summer memories from my childhood is my "Nancy Drew Days".  When the mood struck me, I would announce to my mom after lunch, "It's a Nancy Drew Day" and proceed to retire to my bedroom with a large stack of the novels, a tall glass of ice water and a big bowl of cherries or grapes or whatever other kind of fruit we happened to have in the house.  I could consume three or four of those books in a few hours, gorging myself on the cheap characterization, simplistic writing, and titillating plot twists.  It was a glorious way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.  I would emerge late in the day, satiated and full, stretching and yawning and completely satisfied.

I know that Charlotte Mason would have been appalled that my parents would even allow the yellow hardback novels into the house, much less feed my habit by purchasing them for me at 10 cents a pop at garage sales.  Mason was a British educator in the late 1800 and early 1900s and founded a homeschooling movement that focuses on "the way children naturally learn and presents a generous curriculum, including nature study, art and music appreciation, and handicrafts, as well as the usual academic subjects. It seeks to 'spread a feast' before the child and let him digest what is appropriate for him at the time. And it uses methods that will nurture a love for learning and reinforce good lifelong habits, not just present a body of information" (from  For the most part, I really appreciate and resonate with Mason's philosophies, and wish I did more to integrate them into my homeschooling routines.  One of the ideas for which she is most known is her scathing and contemptuous opinion of what she calls "twaddle" -- language or books which "talk down" to children and assume that they are half-witted, unintelligent beings who cannot comprehend or appreciate worthy and well-told tales.  This includes the fatuous baby talk that some adults are tempted to use when speaking with children ("Ooooo, wook at the pwetty widdle doggies...") and also the books that sometimes pass for children's literature which rely on cheap illustrations and sappy sentimentality to hold the attention.  See: any book written to promote or otherwise coincide with a Disney movie or other cartoon.  Also, most textbooks.

For the most part, I couldn't agree more.  We've always talked to our kids pretty much like they're real human beings, teaching them the correct names for things, and trying to help them appreciate words well-used.  I'm constantly on the lookout for books and materials that will challenge and stretch their imaginations, and I can be pretty heavy handed when it comes to what they are and are not allowed to consume.  I have been known to flat-out disallow certain books from the library (sorry, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony) and to allow others only with wrinkled nose and gritted teeth (fine, Star Wars and Pinkalicious).  As a parent, I consider it a big part of my job to curate my kids' media exposure, and this includes not only what TV and movies they watch, but what books they read as well, and I take this job pretty seriously.  I will admit that in doing this, I am not always the most consistent person, and I would also acknowledge that there is bound to be debate about what does and does not qualify and true twaddle.  I know that in certain circles the Junie B Jones books are viewed as fluff of the worst sort, but I personally find them hilarious and don't mind the kids reading them.  The Judy Moody and Stink books, on the other hand, have failed to impress me in any way and often seem to rely on bodily function humor to keep readers entertained. Many people would look down their noses at the Harry Potter books, but my own opinion is that they are well worth the time that Iain spent earlier this year reading all seven of them as quickly as he possibly could.

All that said, I think that there are times in the life of a person when a little twaddle is in order.  I am perhaps betraying the Guild of English majors when I say this, but sometimes I think we all need to read things that are just plain fun and entertaining, if for no other reason than that we need to be reminded of what the pure delicious pleasure of reading feels like.  I realized yesterday during our daily reading time that Iain was settled on the couch with Encyclopedia Brown, Ana was upstairs on her bed with a Boxcar Children book, and I was reading a Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde, none of which are particularly challenging or high literary art, but all of which are fun to read.  I certainly want my kids to appreciate and enjoy books like The Trumpet of the Swan and The Railway Children and The Wind in the Willows, and they do.  And I don't mean to imply that reading more "serious" books like these can't be fun.  It certainly is.  But I also want my kids to think of themselves as book lovers, readers, people who can devour whole novels in an afternoon and find it delightful.  I think a bit of fluff every now and then doesn't do this image any harm, and in fact, might even improve it a bit.  As with so many things, the danger is in taking myself and my high ideals a little too seriously, not being flexible enough to recognize when a little something sweet (or "twaddlish") isn't going to hurt anyone.

The thing about my childhood's "Nancy Drew Days" is that they only happened maybe once or twice a summer.  It's not like I did that every day, or even wanted to.  It's kind of like what happens when I've been on vacation or at a party and come home and realize that I've only eaten junk food for an entire day.  What I crave is not more junk food, but something real -- an apple or a salad or some good solid protein.  We all love a little dessert now and then, but, if we're paying attention to our bodies, we know that what we really, really love is a healthy balanced diet.  And the thing is, if you're paying attention, even something that seems at first like twaddle can be something from which you can learn.  Iain's current favorite bedtime reading is The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip, for Pete's sake, the lowest of the low culture.  You would not believe, however, the vocabulary he has picked up, including but not limited to the words "comatose", "somnambulist", "lobotomy" and "seceded". Granted, he's also learned about flame throwers, alien invaders, and chocolate frosted sugar bombs too.  The Mr. and I have been watching the television series Chuck on Netflix, and while it is in many ways television at its very fluffiest and shallowest, it has also been the instigator of a surprising number of serious conversations, on everything from scientism, to the conflict between Romantic and Enlightenment thought, to the nature of an unwanted call and what happens when someone is forced to become something they never wanted to become.  Plus, it's fun.  And sometimes, that's just what you need.