Thursday, May 31, 2007

Angel games

When Dylan was a newborn, Darren and I noticed that, while lying on our bed for a diaper change or snuggle time, he would often gaze intently at our framed reproduction of this painting ("The First Kiss", by William Bouguereau). We thought at first that it was nothing more than coincidence, his unfocused, exploring eyes just happening to fall time and again on what was (and still is) one of our favorite works of art. But as time passed, we agreed that maybe it wasn't so much a matter of chance, after all, as he began to also reach out to, and coo at, the still images behind the glass. "How sweet," we mused. "Maybe, being so fresh from heaven, he remembers the angels!"

Dylan was seven months old when we moved into our current home, and, with double the square footage in which we were accustomed to living, we were excited to finally be able to set up his very own bedroom. And here, too, we noticed an interesting phenomenon: many times, peeking in on him playing contentedly on the floor of his room, we would find him focusing intently on something, or someone, which we could not see, and he would be "talking" animatedly while gesturing with his hands. We began to wonder if there really wasn't an angel watching over our little boy, a possibility we fully accepted in theory but which, in reality, sent shivers down my spine.

By the time he was two, we had grown quite used to, and indeed quite fond of, the idea of Dylan having a personal relationship with what we had come to regard as his guardian angel. But still, neither of us was at all prepared for the night when, while getting Dylan dressed for bed, he began telling us of a man that came into his room at night to talk to him while he was falling asleep. To hear a two year old little boy describe in detail a man with "orange" hair and a white robe who flew through his window at night was just a little beyond belief, and yet, he spoke with such authority that we really had to wonder. "Does he have name?" we asked him, hardly daring to breathe.


Michael. Not a name familiar to him, and yet spoken immediately, without hesitation. I think we were just about convinced. If not in that moment, then certainly in the months and years to follow. Michael, now, has come to be an accepted part of this family, one who is blamed often and quickly for any strange, otherwise unexplained occurrences, such as the time when Darren and I were preparing dinner together in the kitchen and heard from the living room a man's voice very distinctly say "Hello". Or the time when, after finally getting all of the kids to sleep, Darren and I finally got into bed and, while talking quietly before sleep, heard, as clear as a bell, the tinkling notes of a music box playing right there in our room. We immediately flipped on the light and searched high and low for the source of the music we had never before heard in our house. We couldn't find anything, nothing at all, to explain it, so we credited Michael with another "appearance" and tried (unsuccessfully, on my part) to go back to sleep.

I think, though, that one of the most disconcerting situations is one that happens somewhat frequently but without any sense of predictability, and that is finding the lamps in our living room shining without having been turned on by any of us. The first few times it happened, I tried to justify the incidents with logic: faulty wiring, perhaps (though these lamps are plugged into two separate wall outlets, so I had a hard time really accepting that theory). They function by touch activation, in which, when the actual lamp switch is "on", you can tap the base once for dim, twice for medium, and three times for bright light. And I will never, ever forget the time that, while I was rocking Meghan to sleep in the darkened living room, both lamps simultaneously lit up. I was paralyzed for a moment, too scared to even call for Darren, but then hastily carried Meghan with me into Dylan's room where Darren was getting him ready for bed.

I have finally reached the point now, though, that when I find either one or both of the lamps mysteriously on, I can just calmly reach over and turn it off. "Looks like Michael is up to his mischief again," I'll say. The kids think it's funny. Darren doesn't seem to mind, and in fact takes comfort from the notion of our very own angel. It's taken me much longer to come around, but this morning even I had to laugh at the strange thing that happened while my kids and I were down on the floor of the living room playing with puzzles. Unexpectedly, the lamp in the corner blinked on. "Oops, guys, Michael's at it again!" They laughed, and one of us turned it back off. But two seconds later...there it goes again! Now that has never happened, and I was a little unsettled. Dylan got up to tap it back off but it would not turn off! I thought he was just being silly and I was, by now, more than a little spooked, so I got up to do it myself. I reached over--tap!--and... it came right back on! Enough was enough. Firmly, I flipped the switch and that was the end of it...or so I thought. I took the kids into the kitchen to fix us some drinks, walked back into the living room while they were sitting at the table, and--you are never going to believe this--the other lamp was on! I quickly switched that one off, too. I can only take so much, you know! And I think that I have exceeded my daily limit of supernatural silliness.

Please, Michael: no more games today!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Best Buddies: Mater and McQueen", by Dylan

Moments like these

When Darren and I redecorated our girls bedroom last summer, we thought it would be sweet for them to have a nice, comfortable little reading nook where they could hide away and enjoy all of their own little books, so we tucked a small book shelf into the corner at the end of Meghan's crib and placed Dylan's big, snugly stuffed cow down on the floor in front of it. This little space has really served us well, and it's one of Meghan's favorite spots in the whole house. It's where we also keep our collection of simple wooden puzzles, and we often find both of our girls playing down there together, with books and puzzles strewn all about.

Last night, while Darren and I were working together on the computer in our bedroom, I could hear all of the kids playing down the hall in Caitlyn and Meghan's room, and since they sounded happy, I never got up to check on them until after Darren and I had completed all the insurance forms we had been filling out. I headed down the hall, but, not wanting to disrupt their happy chatter, I merely peeked into the room, and I nearly cried at the sight that met my eyes:

Dylan and Caitlyn were snuggled together down there in the corner, and he was reading to her! Entire books, with characters she loves! Caitlyn was enjoying tremendously the undivided attention of her doting big brother, and Meghan was happily toddling about the room, playing with her toys and stopping once in a while to rest and listen, too. Standing there in the doorway, I was just overwhelmed with love by the sweetness of these small siblings. Although I may not always see the rewards of our efforts in the day to day, hour by hour, busyness of life, I know that there will always be moments like these, brief glimpses into the true heart and spirit of this family, wordlessly affirming the work that we do every day as parents. And moments like these are all the reward I will ever need.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Random things I'm loving right now, in no particular order:

My new Emmanuel Books catalog.

I have spent many happy hours leisurely perusing the pages of this wonderful resource. Unfortunately, my bank account can only accommodate my desires to a very finite extent, so I'm working on paring down my wish list. If I ever win the lottery, I know where a huge portion of my winnings will be spent!

Kellogg's Special K Chocolatey Delight Cereal.

A nutritious breakfast cereal, and delicious bits of chocolate indulgence, combined together in one perfectly scrumptious morning treat? I am so on it.

The Wiggles Yummy Yummy CD.

I've always loved that it gets my kids up and moving, but did you know that this CD provides an excellent aerobic workout to Mommies who also choose to get up and dance along to all 25 songs? Exercise! Fun!

Scholastic's Magic School Bus series on DVD.

Would you believe that it was only about a month ago that I discovered these delightful, and accurately informative, children's shows? Under what rock must I have been hiding to have not found these sooner? At any rate, we love them. My kids are learning so much and really enjoy the privilege of watching them.

Sidewalk chalk.

Such a simple summertime pleasure, easily enjoyed under the shade of our back patio. Fresh air, creative expression, cooperation...I'm sold!

Crisp garden greens.

What to have with dinner tonight? How about a salad! Fresh picked from the garden! Yum.

Caterpillars...and my children's fascination with them.

Or, more specifically, these cabbageworms, which have pretty much destroyed our broccoli but which we have decided to leave alone because they provide such an interesting lesson for the kids. (And Dylan does so love his little white butterflies!)

Cherry Kool-Aid Sugar Sweetened Soft Drink Mix.

I'm not usually a big proponent of sugary kids drinks, and we so seldom drink Kool-Aid that I really hate to waste valuable space in the refrigerator with a large pitcher full of it, but Darren recently came home from the store with this premixed formula that can be measured out in individual servings. And even I must admit that sometimes, on a hot afternoon, a nice tall glass (or spill-proof sipper) of icy cold K00l-Aid is just the thing to quench that thirst!

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I've been reflecting all week on how utterly unprepared I feel to be standing at the threshold upon which I've suddenly found myself. It seems, though, that a whole new chapter of my life is unfolding before me, one in which the plot, I hope, will only get better. But I had become so accustomed to the rhythm of life as it was, its ebbs and flows, its ups and downs, its predictability, that finding myself faced all at once with such a diverse collection of "firsts" has been a bit overwhelming.

First and foremost, I've been struck recently with the realization that my babies are growing up. It sounds so trite, but it is so true. How did I not recognize it sooner? One day I'm feeling overwhelmed with caring for and nurturing three very small children, and the next I'm gaping in amazement at those same small people (well, two of them, anyway) who are now able to set and clear the table, dress and undress themselves, find matching socks and shoes and put them onto their own feet, wash their faces, brush their teeth, and, most amazingly, take themselves to the potty and finish the job without any help from Mommy.

I think I'm struggling the most to accept this of Dylan. For five and a half years he has been my baby boy, my firstborn, older than his sisters but still, and always, my "baby". I know that, together with Darren, it is our primary responsibility to raise our children into happy, well adjusted, independent, responsible adults. The problem, however, is that I am having a really difficult time with the letting go, and I'm wondering and worrying if that might not be, on some level, one of my main motivations for wanting to homeschool. If I allow for even an instant that it might be, I feel so terribly guilty and selfish. I do want to homeschool, and for so many reasons: because I believe that parents are called to be the primary educators of their children; because I want to ensure proper faith formation; because I know my children far better that even the best teacher could ever hope to know them in such a short amount of time; because the possibilities of learning and exploring together as a family are virtually limitless; because I grow more, and learn more, every day as a person and as a mother by being with and teaching my children at home.

And yet...I still can't shake the nagging sensation that by choosing to homeschool I am depriving my children of a fundamental right of childhood: that of making friends. I pray that my children will always be each others best friends, as they are now. But I also want them to experience the pleasure of having true friends outside of our family, and being only somewhat acquainted with one other homeschooling family, and with no homeschooling groups to be found in our area, I predict a bleak future so far as friendships go. So (and here's where I'm finally getting around to one of those "firsts" I mentioned at the beginning of this post) I've decided to be a little more proactive: I've enrolled Dylan, who has never spent any length of time away from at least one family member, in Vacation Bible School at our parish, to be held in late June. And can I just say how completely freaked out I feel about this? ("Ohmygosh. You mean I have to just leave him there? At the church? For three hours a day?") I know it's highly irrational of me. That's one reason I'm so glad to be married to Darren. He, at least, can see past his anxiety to how fun the whole experience will be for Dylan. And Dylan himself is really excited! Apparently it's just me who has the problem. But I am bound and determined to beat it!

I am also looking into what sounds like a wonderful music program for children that my brother first told me about years ago, when Dylan was still just a baby. I thought it sounded fun, but didn't really give it a second thought at the time and had actually forgotten all about it until a few nights ago, when I asked him if he had any recommendations for good music classes for small children. He immediately suggested that I get in touch with his friend ("Melissa! I told you about her a long time ago...don't you remember?!"). Oops. Anyway, I really like the sound of the Family Time class, in which I and all of my children could participate together. It may not seem like much, but anyone who knows me in real life knows that I am the quintessential wallflower, so to me this is a Really Big Deal. I know, I know. Sometimes I'm just so pathetic it's embarrassing.

And, about those other "firsts"? Well, let's see...

For the first time in a very long time, Darren is completely happy with his job. He comes home in the evening (late afternoon, actually) smiling and full of stories about how great his day was. It is as though a weight has been lifted from him, and the dark cloud that permeated our home during the last months at his former job has completely evaporated. It is wonderful...our entire family has felt the positive effects from this career change, and I am so very thankful. But the transition from dismal to delightful was so abrupt that my head is still spinning!

My mom is getting married on June 9th and two days later will be moving out of state. My mom. This will be the very first time we have ever lived more than ten minutes apart. She is one of my best friends, and I rely on her for so much. I think some part of me must be in denial, because, when considering plans I have already made for later in the summer, they seem to somehow include my mom. June 11th is going to be a sad, sad day.

And, though this sounds terribly self absorbed, I'm having a bit of a hard time with the reality that in just a few short weeks, I will be thirty years old. "Thirty" seems to somehow convey a level of maturity that I still don't think I've reached, and that scares me. What business do I have being thirty? Thirty is for grownups. Sometimes I think I'm still seventeen.

So, now you know. I'm a silly, insecure mama's girl trapped inside an adults body. But, honestly? This life I'm living right now is so much better than I ever could have imagined when I really was that seventeen year old girl. I have been so very blessed.

Monday, May 21, 2007


For some reason I feel compelled to preface this post with just a small word of caution: WARNING! MULTIPLE PHOTOS TO FOLLOW! I'm sorry, but I just can't seem to help myself. However, I will admit that it is a little embarrassing to sit down at the computer with the intention of uploading a few photos only to find, once you are finished, that those "few" are actually sixteen! I should really learn some restraint. Or maybe, as I've been considering lately, I just need to create an entirely separate nature blog. Although, I sort of hesitate to take that leap because it feels as though I would be compartmentalizing my life...and right now, this is our life! We are outside a lot, and we all take such pride in what we have accomplished with our garden. I look at the vegetables, growing more each day, and can only shake my head in wonder. "Wow! We did this!" Truly, I am amazed at the beautiful complexity of it all: that we were able to start with such a simple patch of earth, sow a few seeds, and transform them into food which will sustain us over the summer. Is that anything short of miraculous?

Here is some of the mint Dylan was so excited about last Friday. It really does smell lovely; he wants to try using it to brew some tea! And his sunflowers make me so very happy. Their cheerful faces really brighten the garden. I am so glad he suggested their inclusion!

Darren planted a raspberry plant in our flower bed three summers ago to surprise me, and it is always such a treat to find the juicy, sun ripened berries there hiding among the flowers, just waiting to be found and enjoyed.I could never have imagined being so thrilled at the sight of fresh vegetables until we began growing our own this year. Don't get me wrong, I love fresh vegetables, but the sight of these, growing or just picked by our own hands, make me positively swoon. Lettuce, Radishes, Tomatillos, Sugar Snap Peas, Roma tomatoes, Zucchini Squash...oh, my.We haven't really seen any strawberries reach maturity yet, but I wonder if that has anything to do with this particular backyard friend of ours. He's one of the adult turtles we received from my mom, and he loves to eat strawberries. Quite a messy eater, isn't he? But that face! I just love it!And here are two of my three very favorite backyard buddies: my little scientists, studying the butterfly they had just captured in Dylan's bug catcher! Moments like these, getting down on the ground with them and viewing the world through their eyes, remind me of how very blessed I am to be their Mommy.

Pretend Play

"We're driving home from the bookstore!"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A nature walk

I am so often reminded lately of my sophomore year of high school, during which, since all of my best friends were of the "intellectual variety" (okay, so we were geeks!), we all signed up for the same honors classes so we could be together. We were assigned in our biology class at the beginning of the year a project which would comprise a significant portion of our final grade, and I, being the studious sort that I was, was consumed for months by the enormity of it. There were actually two components to the intensive nature study, selected from several options offered by our teacher. I chose to focus on the collection, preservation, and proper identification of area plants and insects, preferring them over birds because I thought they would be easier. Silly me! I still fondly recall (fondly, I say, now that I'm looking back over the distance of fifteen years) the months spent searching for unique plants. My mom and I would drive out into the desert to "go collecting", and often, simply driving through town, one or both of us could be heard to call out, "Wait! I saw something! Pull over! Go back!" I grew quite familiar with my Audubon field guides, and spent many late afternoons in the biology lab identifying plants and bugs.

Imagine my surprise when, years later, Darren expressed such delight in finding that I still had the entire, intact collection of plants I had gathered and identified in high school--he actually has a similar collection that he put together for fun while growing up in Texas! He has always been much more of a naturalist than me, encouraging me during our courtship to go on long hikes with him through the mountains and collecting minerals and plants on the weekends. I've always enjoyed it, but lacked the passion he demonstrated, which I always somewhat envied but never could quite understand. That is, until recently--when, much to my great pleasure, I rediscovered all those same familiar plants through the lens of my camera and noticed, for perhaps the first time, the amazingly beautiful intricacies they each displayed. It was as though an entirely new world had been presented to me, all of which was mine to capture and define through the images I chose to preserve.

I guess it's no big secret now that photographing the beauty of nature has become a great love of mine, but I love, too, that through the example of Darren and I, our children are also so very appreciative of their surroundings and the splendor of all of God's creation. They were just as happy to poke around in the desert on Friday afternoon as they were to play in the park. (Within safe boundaries, of course.) There were so many familiar old shrubs and flowers in bloom and it was a gorgeous day for taking pictures. Here are just a few of my desert favorites. I hope you enjoy the tour!

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata):
These really do have the most delicious chocolate fragrance!
We're hoping to collect seeds to add to our native garden.

An unidentified variety of mint. Beautiful!

Desert Verbena (Verbena wrightii):

Black-Spine Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrocentra):
Aren't these flowers gorgeous?

Desert Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii):
This is one of my favorite desert shrubs.
We planted two hybrids in our garden,
but unfortunately, neither survived the winter.

Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha):
I think I'm just drawn to combinations of red and yellow.
It is, to me, absolutely beautiful.

Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium):
Highly hallucinogenic, but beautiful just the same.
These can be found in abundance along our highways this time of year.

Desert Stickleaf (Mentzelia pumila):

White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora):
This one has a little visitor.
Can you see it?

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa):
Here is one of its pretty little flowers...
...and some of its amazing seed heads.
Are these not just gorgeous?

And finally,

Texas skeletonplant (Lygodesmia texana):

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Smiling through the tears

Considering the fact that I spent most of Thursday either crying or on the verge of tears (and by crying I mean hiding in the bathroom with the faucet running so the kids wouldn't hear my sobs), I find it incredible that the two days since then have been so delightful. Yesterday morning I awoke to the sound of hushed voices talking animatedly in the living room, and then, a few minutes later, Dylan tiptoeing into the bedroom and creeping over to my side of the bed to see if I was awake. When he saw that I was, he announced with great glee, "Mommy, look! Daddy plucked some mint leaves for each of us from the garden and smell how delicious they smell!" Smiling, I inhaled the ambrosial fragrance of the leaves he held so invitingly in his small hand, and hugged my boy briefly before he was dashing back out of the room. Stretching, I lingered just a little longer before getting up and getting ready, and then, since it was Darren's day off, (have I mentioned I just love his new schedule?!), we decided to take the kids for a drive to show them Daddy's new job. We had taken them out to the museum before, but it's been a while, and so I, too, was really looking forward to seeing it again. We had such a great time! I still can't believe that this is Darren's job now. It sounds so fun, and he is loving it so much, that it hardly seems right to call it "work"! The kids really enjoyed Missile Park (for which Darren is now responsible!), and after strolling through, we toured the museum and Darren's new (very big!) office.Since it was past lunchtime when we finally finished at the museum, we treated ourselves to hot dogs and french fries before heading to the park, a destination we had promised as a reward for good behavior. It was a beautiful day, perfect for our outing, and Meghan was mesmerized with the dandelions she would daintily pick and then carefully bring to us. Dylan, our fearless explorer, was absolutely thrilled to find what he declared to be "perfect climbing trees!", and Caitlyn, pretty in her sundress, was lifted gently into the branches to join the fun.

My view from the slide...a picture of serenity:
We took our time on the drive back into town, stopping to photograph some wildflowers and thereby prolonging the joy of the journey. (I'm thinking of posting those pictures tomorrow, along with several others I took this afternoon in our garden. I'd include them now, but I'm afraid there are so many they require an entire entry of their own!)

Today, too, was filled with many pleasant surprises: the offer from my mom to keep the Josh Groban CD I've been borrowing for the past week, an impromptu invitation from my younger brother to join him at Chuck E. Cheese's for lunch, a Tomie dePaola book found at a yard sale for ten cents, lots of time spent outside playing in the yard this evening, and a delightful movie enjoyed with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream!

If I'm not happy yet, I'm getting there...and enjoying every step along the way.