The Life and Death of Baby Tad

The devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat.
He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet.
Johnny said: "Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.
"I told you once, you son of a gun, I'm the best that's ever been."

And he played fire on the mountain, run boys, run.
The devil's in the house of the risin' sun.
Chicken in the bread pan, now they're pickin' out dough.
"Granny, will your dog bite?"
"No, child, no."--Charlie Daniels, Devil Went Down to Georgia


"Hey Mom! I just saw a baby animal!" Madeline said as we were driving to the Apple Store today.

"Oh yeah? What kind of animal was it?" I asked.

"I don't know, I think it was a baby deer.......or maybe it was a pig," she said.

(Hee hee, I bet you didn't realize that a baby deer is quite indistinguishable from a pig....and that there are droves of pigs along the side of the road in the middle of winter here in Minnesota....)

"A deer or a pig huh?" Kurt and I laughed.

"Yeah, I don't know which one it was but it was really cute!" she exclaimed. And really, isn't that all that matters when you are 6?

A few moments later we were listening to Charlie Daniels sing Devil Went Down to Georgia when Lily shouted excitedly: "HE JUST SAID CHICKEN!"

She started laughing. Apparently, when you are 4, that is very funny. But I have to admit, I had never noticed that, sure enough, he does mention chickens in the bread pan. As a violinist, I have always focused so much more on the fiddling that I had never paid much attention to the actual words. Yay for chickens!

Speaking of chickens, I mean, violins, we had to take the proverbial violin out of the closet today to play a sad song, saying goodbye to one of our oldest family "friends" (and by friends I am referring to an obnoxious, but magical, toy.)

Baby Tad had been with us for almost 8 years. I have an aunt who gave one to each of the new babies in the family when all of us nieces and nephews started having children and I do believe mine was the only family who truly latched on to all that Baby Tad had to offer. You see, he became an indispensable part of our bedtime routine: bath, brush teeth, read book, say prayers, push Baby Tad's night time music hand 6 times for 6 uninterrupted minutes of the same familiar classical music EVERY SINGLE NIGHT FOR THE LAST SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS. This is something we started with each kid early in infancy so that by the time they were sleeping on their own, it was routine, comfort, reassurance, or, if you are us parents, MAGIC! It worked so well with each of our 4 kids that Tad became the Dumbo's-magic-feather-in-our-trunk-so-that-we-could-fly, as far as bedtime goes. We could travel nowhere without him. At one point we had three Tad's in the house (there was this puking incident with one that we simply weren't sure he'd recover from and so then there were two and then one was handed down from another family member, etc....)

Needless-to-say, we are going to truly miss the last of our Tads whose hands gave out just yesterday....at nap time.....wonderful surprise, really.... And there is no way on God's great planet that we will be replacing him now that he is no longer made....I mean, who pays $150 for a toy that is really not worth $20? And I don't think buying a used Tad for $27 is going to happen either since we know what goes on with Tad behind closed doors (see aforementioned puking incident comment.)

At any rate, we will sorely miss our old bedtime routine buddy. Liam especially, since he is the most OCD of our kids and seems to be a bit alarmed at the lack of Tad singing at the foot of his new Toddler Bed which he transitioned into on Christmas day....nothing like changing everything on a kid at once! I mean, what will we throw at him next? A new baby or something?!

(....2 weeks and counting....)

Ok, I must go get the chickens out of the bread pan and feed them some real breakfast! Or were those pigs? Who knows, but they sure are cute!

Have a great day!


And to All a Good Night....

Unless of course you are the cat (what can I say...the kids picked out his present!):

Merry Christmas!


All I Want for Christmas....

What follows, in my opinion, is the plight of the majority of Americans. If you have ever known the tradition of Christmas lights, then you know this story well.

We have 9 strands of lights for our Christmas tree....that's 900 lights. Yes, you read that correctly, 900 teeny, tiny lights. They all worked last year so we took them off the tree, wound them in their light holders, put them away.....do I even need to go on?

So, let's take a little survey. How many of those darn strands do you think worked once we got them on the tree this year????

One. One. Stinkin'. Single. Strand. The very top strand......100 of 900 lights lit up..... (and yes, I know you are supposed to check these things BEFORE putting them on but seriously, who remembers to do that?)

No amount of fuse changing, finger crossing or sacrifices to the light gods worked (of course, I stopped short of the cat for the children's sake....but maybe I should rethink that one....)

So, Kurt did the only rational thing possible: he took off, braving a blizzard in which we had already gotten roughly two feet of snow, to go get LED lights for the tree so that we could decorate next to the fire, sipping hot chocolate, all blissful and merry, while singing Christmas carols...putting Norman Rockwell to shame....that is, assuming you could bleep out a few things (words) here and there, airbrush out the broom and dust pan awaiting the next ornament casualty, ignore the cat abuse as we fought him off of the tree, looked past the TWO DOZEN kid-made ornaments hanging on a SINGLE branch, you know, most of the details....

But, alas, our skinny tree, filled to the brim with decorations, is up and still standing. That says a lot for this house.

Now, the gift buying has been an entirely different story. If you ask my kids what they want for Christmas, you might think they'd say toys right?

True, if you are speaking to Aidan, who like most boys his age wants some sort of video gaming system and games to match. But ask that same question of Lily and you get her new tradition of asking for cheesy noodles ("Wasn't that funny when Santa brought me cheesy noodles last year?" she mused. "I'm gonna ask for cheesy noodles again this year!") And Liam, well, he doesn't actually talk and gets excited about everything so we figure, anything will do!

But then if you ask Madeline what she wants most of all she will tell you: a three-ringed binder.

Yeah, a three-ringed binder. More specifically, a hard-covered three-ringed binder.

"What color would you want, Madeline?" I asked.


"And that's all you want?" I asked.

"Well, maybe I could ask for two binders so that when we play school, I have one for Lily and one for Liam," she said.

Hold on kid, now you might be pushing it.....TWO binders? What do you think Santa will think when he finds out you want TWO WHOLE BINDERS?! What kind of parents do you think we are?

But as we continued the conversation, it turns out that not only does she want two binders but paper and a hole puncher to go with it. Spoiled kid.

But seriously, what kid asks for office supplies for Christmas? And, to make it even better, Kurt and I went to two different office supply stores a few weekends back and how many YELLOW hard-covered, 3-ringed binders do you think we found? NOT A ONE! Apparently you can get a three-ring binder in ANY OTHER COLOR BUT YELLOW! You want pink? No problem. Green, blue, red, purple, turquoise, chartreuse? Got it. Yellow? Nope. Nada. Nothing. Of course.

I looked online and didn't find one in the "right size" or without some other issue. So, the soft-covered, wrong size but right color binder will have to do, alongside a couple other hard-covered pink and blue binders, a hole puncher and what the heck, some post-it notes and page dividers while we're at it. She'll be living large this Christmas, that's for sure!

As for me, all I want for Christmas is a baby that stays put until at least the New Year and possibly the assurance that next year will be the year that all our decorations will light up, sing, turn, come alive or whatever it may be, without a hitch. But, don't worry, I'm not holding my breath!


Savage Chickens

Ok, I have to give a big thanks to my good friend Deb for sending me this link. This guy is pretty funny and this particular comic quite timely. Click on the link below for a good little chicken laugh.

Savage Chickens

Speaking of chicken laughs, I have had plenty to laugh at recently listening to the kids. Shocker, I know. It's just tough getting it all written down this time of year. At any rate, here are some recent conversations, starting from the top.

Aidan: Mom, so, the food goes down through the stomach and into the testament where it becomes poop right?

Karen: Um, you mean the intestines.

Aidan: I said that. It travels in the testaments and becomes poop.

Perhaps the ministry will not be his calling!


Driving home from school with the carpool kid, Matt, the kids were practicing their counting by ones, tens and hundreds....lucky me.

Madeline had just gone from counting by tens to hundreds until she got to one thousand and needed me to help when Matt chimed in.

"I can count to a cadrillion," he announced. (This ought to be loads of fun, I thought, grateful that the car ride was coming to an end.)

"Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred (certainly you are feeling my pain at this point right?), seven hundred, eight hundred, nine hundred, CADRILLION!" he exclaimed.

"That's not right," Lily immediately said. "There is no such thing as a cadrillion."

"Yeah, it's not a cadrillion, it's an Uhjillion," Madeline said. "And anyway, you missed a number."

And perhaps math will not be their calling either.


So, I was riding to a mom's group with Lily and Liam in tow and Lily was just chatting away with Liam listening by her side. I am sure she was talking to me but I must admit, I have a great propensity for spacing out when the conversation turns one sided and I am pretty sure they don't care if they are actually heard but are talking just for the sake of hearing themselves.

At any rate, I was lost in thought when I heard Lily say, "Mom, there is more than just one virgin."

I snapped out of my daze. "Um, sorry, what did you say, Lily?"

"You know, there is more than one virgin. There are lots of virgins," she replied.

All was quiet as I tried to figure out what in the world she was trying to say and where it came from, kicking myself for not listening better to the beginning of the topic of conversation.

"What do you mean?" I finally asked, wondering if she was trying to make sense of something she had heard at church about the Christmas story.

"Well, there are lots of virgins to this song, listen," she said as she began to sing.

"Oh! Version! There are lots of versions! Got it," I said......and she was right, there were many....lucky me.


The "Myth" of Christmas

"You KNOW it's a myth. This season celebrate reason." --American Atheist billboard

"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now please don't ask why, no one knows quite the reason. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small." - Dr. Seuss

While I don't like to weigh in on too many sensationalized issues of our time, I have to admit, this one cracks me up. I saw an interview the other day where David Silverman (president of the American Atheist group) was defending the claim that Christmas is a myth. Now, I am all for free speech and freedom of religion and obviously, Mr. Silverman and anyone else can believe what they do, but I am quite certain, no matter what your religious beliefs, that Christmas is NOT a myth. Christmas happens, EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR! Really Mr. Silverman, all you have to do is take off the blinders, look out your window, walk down the streets, go into stores, look at what people are wearing and how they are acting, possibly watch some television at night and you will realize that Christmas takes place each and every year. And it is happening, RIGHT NOW! Whether or not you believe in Santa and sleigh bells, Jesus and Mary or the Toothfairy; it happens. And many atheists I know celebrate Christmas in good cheer and with loving intentions every year. So really, I'm not sure what the "reason" is behind wasting money on billboard space. Most people who see it will probably just shrug their shoulders, having just come from a Christmas party, or shopping, or talking to loved ones about holiday plans; they are pretty sure Christmas is coming. And it will, with or without you. Just ask the Grinch.

Actually, he might learn a little something from the ol' Grinch and those of us fa-la-la-ing in Who-ville. Certainly there are millions of us Christmas celebrators who are preparing for the birth of Jesus as we speak. But even those who do not believe in Jesus are preparing their hearts in other ways for the coming of Christmas. And my guess is, no matter how many billboards go up or interviews take place, Mr. Silverman will be left "with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow...puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!""

And perhaps he, too, will puzzle till his puzzler is sore until he realizes something he hadn't before....

"Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store...." Maybe Christmas really does mean a bit more. And really, is that so bad? Whatever your beliefs, is it so bad that people put a little strut in their step and a bit more good-will in their days in anticipation and preparation for something bigger than themselves? I'm not sure I follow how this is a problem. I'm not sure I follow his "reason" this season.

Actually, I feel kind of sorry for Mr. Silverman because how sad it must be to miss out on the joy that is Christmas. And while I mean that on so many levels, at the very least, it must be lonely to deny the spirit that is in the air this time of year. Or perhaps, just maybe, even as he goes around trying to free the "closet atheists" of the world, he is actually a closet celebrator himself....or, at the very least, perhaps HE HIMSELF will carve the roast beast!


Thanksgiving in Pictures

While the biggest poultry (and appreciation) day of the year is fast approaching, and many crazy birds are about to go into hiding (by way of our tummies) I thought it would be nice to share some of the things we here in Graceful Chicken Land are thankful for this year. And since I can't possibly spend the time to tell you every last thing I am grateful for, I am only choosing those that are captured in picture in some way or another (without violating the privacy of people outside my immediate family of course!)

So, in random order, I am thankful for having kids who are satisfied with birthday parties at home. And because I've always been a closet fan of western wear: boots, hats and the like, I am especially thankful for Madeline's latest interest in cowgirl stuff which lead to the making of a cowgirl pinata and western themed party earlier this month. She had originally wanted me to create a horse pinata but after much thought, I wasn't sure I was skilled enough to do that just yet. Maybe next year lil' darlin'!

I'm also thankful for the bountiful harvest we had in our garden this year. For a first year project, we were very spoiled (as were many of the veggies that we simply couldn't eat or give away quick enough!)

This is the last harvest, right at the end of October before we started clearing it all out:

Now, I must admit, I don't like green peppers at all. These were supposed to be red and yellow peppers but we had a very difficult time getting any to turn this season. (I'm totally open to suggestions on that one!) But the enormous cherry tomato plant that blessed us with a tremendous supply just about every day totally made up for it.

I'm also thankful for Halloween, the one day in which the true character of my children can come out and it is entirely appropriate!

And for the local pumpkin patch for the colorful photo op:

And I am thankful for the apple trees we planted. Although we only got one lonely apple this year from three trees, it was by far the most gigantic apple we have ever seen. We had to pick it a wee bit early out of fear it would break the branch and it practically fed the whole family. (And it tasted divine!)

And while I am talking of ginormous things, we absolutely loved our "only in Minnesota" sized sunflower. This picture was taken when we were harvesting the seeds: all the petals are gone, the majority of the seeds had been knocked loose and it still took both girls to hold the thing up it weighed so much:

I'm thankful for catching a few beautiful sunrises, complete with birds and dolphins (and I'm thankful for those that made it possible to be on the beach for them!):

And even for weird cats, and their ability to make us laugh...while they are sleeping:

And, speaking of laughing, I have to thank my kids for their clever ideas and their ability to keep me smiling:

And I am truly grateful for genetic testing that came back a-ok (all 10 vials of blood worth...seriously, I'm just glad they weighed Liam BEFORE taking all that blood), and for the simple things that make my kids happy: like the itty bitty back-pack that gets Liam excited on the days he gets to ride the tiny school bus to school:

And of course I am very thankful for this one last pregnancy which allowed me to create, not only another chick but a new Graceful Chicken shirt:

And for the husband who made it all possible (whether intended or not).

And for the Creator who laughed His heavenly tail off watching us this year and, of course, wept with us in times of sorrow.

And for all of you who read this blog and those of you who share with me in one way or another your thoughts and stories: thank you.

Blessings to you all!


This Week in Lilyland

The kids are all involved with the local gymnastic place where they are learning to do things that, when applied at home, start looking awfully dangerous. For example, Lily is working on back rolls down a wedge but since we don't own a wedge she tries back rolls down our slide in the basement, or down the partially reclined sofa. So, like any responsible parents, we just turn our heads the other way, cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Anyway, as we were on our way home from gymnastics this week, the conversation went something like this:

"Mom, when we were in gymnastics today, I had to sit out for a while," Lily confessed.

"Oh? Why is that?" I asked.

"Well, Miss AJ told me I had to because I wasn't following directions," she said.

"Well, Lily, you can't move up into Madeline's class if you don't follow directions exactly right," I said.

"But, Moooom, she never told me not to go crashing into everyone."


So then today, I overheard Lily helping Liam with his speech. (Up until recently, she was the only one who could get him to try out new sounds and words.)

"Liam, say 'shuuuu'," Lily said.


"Say 'ut'."


"Shut," Lily said.

"Shut," Liam answered.

"Say up," Lily said.

"Up," Liam answered.





"Mooooooom! Liam just said shut up!" Lily tattled.

"Uh, Lily, you just made him say that," I said.

"Oh. Right."

Again, details....


Have a great weekend!


Where's My Chicken Wing?!

"Hey Lily, time to get ready for school," I told her today, with an hour to spare...you know, in hopes that we might get to the store before drop-off time.

"Where's my chicken wing?" she shouted, running out of the art room.

"Ummmmm.....uh.....what?" I asked, a little confused.

"My chicken wing. Where is it?" she demanded.

"Ok, you got me. Where is it?" I asked back.

"Moooooom! I don't know where it is!" she said, getting irritated.

"Lily, I don't know what you are talking about," I told her calmly.

"You know, the wing I made for school....FOR THE CHICKEN!" she replied, exasperated.

"Ooooooh. You mean the turkey feather," I said as I glanced at the counter where she had left the blue construction paper decorated with alphabet stickers and crayon swirls.

"Yeah, that. Where is it?"


There is nothing quite like having a Lily to keep things interesting (and light). And there is nothing quite like preschool turkey feathers to remind me that the time for Halloween decor and rotting pumpkins is past; we are now on to the holiday of colorful poultry and gratitude. For the record, I have seen many a turkey around here and not one of them had red, yellow, blue and pink feathers coming out their tail. Then again, the majority of them either looked like they were running for their lives (like the big ol' turkey we saw crossing the road on the way to church last weekend) or were featherless, roasted and served up on a platter! (I admit, I have much to learn when it comes to turkeys, except when it comes to the eatin' part of course!)

While I wish you all a much better week than the last one we had over here, I'll admit, I learned some valuable lessons over the past seven or eight days. Here's the two that top my list:

1) Don't go into a funeral without tissues on hand....no matter how rock hard you think your emotions are at that moment, once something triggers the flood gate (you know, like the music in the first few minutes), you may just want that Kleenex because quite honestly, the back of your hand can only absorb so much! (I'm a genius, really....)

2) Speaking of tissues, even if you don't carry kids in your car much, always have a box of tissues available. You just never know when you might be toting a four year old who can fall asleep in the middle of a spontaneous nose bleed, and having nothing available to you but the seats you are sitting on really bites. I'm just sayin'.... (You also gotta love the same kid who, upon arriving at the destination and being roused from sleep, asks, "Hey, is my nose bleed done yet?" Nice kid. Real nice!)

Have a wonderful week!


In Our Thoughts

"All creation springs from emptiness: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void....."

"Emptiness is the pregnant void out of which all creation springs. But many of us fear emptiness. When we first glimpse emptiness, we taste death in it. It feels like an abyss, a sheer drop into eternity, a dangerous negation of all that is alive, visible, safe and good. We prefer to remain in the realm of form, surrounded by things we can see and touch, things we imagine are subject to our control." --Wayne Muller, in his book Sabbath

"If you want to become full, let yourself be empty. If you want to be reborn, let yourself die." --Tao Te Ching

Dear Wahletha,

Today we awoke late and I was irritated that we were going to miss church, again. But when your dear husband of 53 years called to tell us of your peaceful passing, I was grateful to be home and not sitting in the pew. It was a quick call and we felt honored to have been on his list and a part of your life. You had only been gone an hour at most. But you had really been gone for some time, with a disease that took your mind away from you, and from us, much too quickly. I hung up the phone and tears took to my face as Kurt and the kids hugged me and each other. It was a fleeting, tender moment.

Within a few minutes, we packed up the car and headed to the gym. What else could we do? The kids wanted to know if you would come back as a baby and I explained you were with God and that He would want to keep you there. They wanted to know if God ever sent people back to live a different life, if I knew whether I had ever been someone else before. All I could tell them was that you were safe with God and that we had to trust we would all be there someday as well.

As we exercised, Kurt and I talked about what we could do for your family: have the kids make cards and homemade cookies, bring them food or a plant. Nothing very exciting. Nothing fancy. We wondered if it mattered. Our hearts simply swelled in sadness for you and yours. In the middle of our conversation, we ran into a suffering friend, one going through an unwanted divorce. I noticed the budding of hope, that life could somehow go on for him even in the midst of helpless emptiness. I wanted to grasp that hope and send it to your house. If only I could.

Later, as the kids built forts with blankets and clothes pins, tunnels and bar stools, we watched football and rejoiced over a hard fought win. But you remained in our thoughts and somehow winning, like the colds we are fighting off, had far less significance than it may have just yesterday.

And then we carved pumpkins. One was partly rotted but we carved it anyway. It had been waiting too long and patiently for us to simply dismiss it. The other was Aidan's prize that he won at school for being good and working hard to earn tickets to put in a special pumpkin drawing. He was so thrilled that he had won and when he came carrying that monster pumpkin off the bus, I was half afraid he might himself fall down and be crushed under its weight as it was half his size and he could scarcely get his arms around it. He chose a skeleton face for me to carve. Madeline chose a witch. Neither turned out that great, but, somehow, it didn't matter much this year. I wondered if your family noticed the dreary fall day we were having, how it matched the mood of your passing. It always seems a cruel irony when someone dies in a day full of sunshine. But that was not today. Today was a day meant for mourning.

The kids spilled a bag of popcorn all over the floor while I was carving and then ran out to play football with their daddy while I cleaned up and made dinner: a quick compilation of random stuff we had in the freezer, fridge and pantry. Nothing very exciting. Nothing fancy. Again, our thoughts turned to you. Aidan wanted to know where you were right then. Not knowing all the details, we explained you were probably taken to the funeral home in preparation for the funeral. We had already explained what would happen at the funeral, and the possibility of your body being seen at a wake. I have to admit, while I know some people need it for closure, the idea of an open casket always gives me the creeps and I am filled with thanks that I was able to say goodbye just a few weeks ago with a simple kiss on your forehead after telling you that my family and I loved you. It was the least I could do. Sadly, it was also the most.

I wondered aloud how your loving husband was doing, his first dinner without you. Kurt suggested badly. I could only think of the emptiness that was ever present in his heart. A void that we would be so lucky (yet so unfortunate) to know many, many years from now. How does one ever fill the emptiness that comes with such a great loss? How does one ever face that void? Love never fades, never fails, but the days go on, with or without us. And that emptiness runs deep in those left behind. If God is still actively creating, is it safe to assume that something could begin to grow in that empty space? Would we even want it to?

While washing dishes, I contemplated the loneliness of your beloved. He would no longer have your dishes to wash. I imagine he would do dishes all day and night if it meant having you there with him just a little longer. And as I was contemplating his loss, the baby in my womb kicked me and reminded me that also in this vicious cycle of life, new birth arises. You didn't know another baby was expected in our house. And you will never meet this child here on earth. Yet he or she reminds me that ever so near death, birth resides; and in the midst of great emptiness, we can also be filled.

So Wally, I pray that you have found fullness and wholeness in your heavenly home and that your life is born once again, into God's peace and presence, as you await the day you are reunited with those you have left behind. Thank you for treating us as family, for acting as another grandma figure to our children, for loving us as you did. We love you and thank God we had you in our lives. And we will miss you dearly.

Peace to you, now and evermore.
Karen and family


Reincarnation 101

"Mom, when we die, do we come back as something else?" Aidan asked.

"Some people and some religions believe that, Aidan. They call it reincarnation," I answered.

"What do you think?" he pressed on.

"Hmmm, I don't really know what happens when we die. It would be neat to come back as something else but I don't think that happens," I explained.

"Well, when I die, I want to come back as Papa Smurf," he said leaving me wondering why I ever take their questions seriously.

"Yeah," mused Lily. "And I want to come back as Baby Smurf!"

"Well, I want to come back as a cat," said Madeline. "Would you want to come back as a rabbit, Mom?"

"Um, no. I would not choose to be a prey animal," I answered. (Or anything blue and imaginary for that matter.)

"What's a prey animal?" Madeline asked.

"UUUUUHG, you don't even know what a prey animal is?" Mr. Know-it-all sneered.

"Ok, Aidan, what's a prey animal," I asked.

"Uuuuuum, I don't know," he said sheepishly.

"Is it one that prays?" Lily asked.

"They need to," I said. "But, no, a prey animal is an animal that gets hunted by other animals. So take a rabbit for example. It is prey to a fox because the fox will kill it and eat it for food," I explained. "The fox is the predator and the rabbit is the prey."

"You know, maybe I would want to be Handy Smurf instead because then I could make a lot of cool stuff," Aidan said.

Again, why do I bother?

The Halloween Costume

"Mommy, what are you going to be for Halloween?" Lily asked me the other day as I was getting dressed.

"Um, I don't know, Lily. Probably nothing," I said.

"Well, you could be a person with a baby in your tummy," she suggested.

"That's true, but that really wouldn't be much of a costume," I said.

"Well, you could be a pumpkin," she said. Then, looking at my outfit (black shirt, black hat and jeans) she added, "You could wear all black and be a big, black pumpkin."

"Um, Lily, when have you ever seen a black pumpkin?" I asked.

"Well, of course you would be a rotten pumpkin," she said.

Ah, yes, of course: a rotten pumpkin. Not sure why I didn't think of that!


Lily Letters

Do you want to know what breed of chicken would be right for your backyard? Check out this website I found recently: My Pet Chicken If you aren't the least bit interested, no worries, most of us don't get to pick our chickens before they hatch anyhow!

Speaking of random chickens; last night, Lily decided she wanted to write some letters.

"Mom, can you write down my letters for me?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, taking the pen and scrap pieces of paper she handed me.

"Ok, write this," she said.

"Sorry Dad, since I tackled you at the gym. You will always be my dad. And I will always love you." --Lily

"Ok, here's another one," she went on.

"Dear God, Thank you for the trespasses and thank you for the daily bread. I will always love you. The end." (Either we need to explain a little better what trespasses means or she is extremely honest about enjoying that particular part of life.)

"Here's another one," she said.

"Dear Madeline, you are really pretty and you will always be my sister and I will never hurt you....again. Love Lily"

Hey, she's trying here. Kind of like the other day when she asked if I would make her a sign for her bedroom.

"What would you like it to say?" I curiously inquired.

"Only Girls and Daddy and Mommy and Liam allowed."

While I kind of wanted to praise her for keeping with the positive of who IS included rather than singling out the one (Aidan) who is not, I figured we'd better just not write the sign. The gender war has already half begun around here as it is; no reason to fan that fire.

And although I think it is kind of neat that you can pick out a chicken breed based on a series of pre-programed questions (afterall, it's probably important to know which ones will have parts freeze off in the winter around here.....just sayin'), with kids, you have to go with the "take what you get" approach, learning as you go to simply enjoy the ride. And oh, what a ride indeed!

Happy Monday!


Eggs, like chickens!

"Mom, when do you find out what the baby is going to be?" Aidan asked a week or so ago as I was putting him to bed.

"When it is born," I said.

"Why not before?" he asked.

"Because we like it to be a surprise," I told him. "But I have to warn you Aidan, we are kind of guessing it's a girl, although we don't know that for sure."

"Well that's ok, you can have a boy next time," Aidan replied. I chuckled.

"No, there won't be a next time, Aidan," I said.

"How do you know?" he asked, sitting up on his make-shift bed. (He has decided he prefers to sleep on the floor of the playroom rather than deal with sharing a room with Liam who is not always ready for sleep.)

"Well, we will do a medical procedure to make sure we can't have any more babies," I explained.

"They can do that?" he asked. "How?"

I paused for a moment, not wanting to dive into the details of vasectomies since that would require explanation of WHY that would work.

"Um, well you see Aidan, they can do what is called a tubal ligation," I said, hoping to stop there.

"What's that?" he inquired. Doh. Where to begin....

"You see, in each female body there is an organ called the uterus. Let's say my fist is the uterus," I said, holding up my fist. "Keep in mind though, my fist is bigger than an actual uterus."

"Wait, I'll get something smaller then," he said, running over to the play kitchen and throwing me a small bunch of green plastic grapes.

"Great, so, let's say these grapes are the uterus," I went on. "So, the uterus starts small like this but can grow and grow while a baby is made inside," I explained, rubbing my big ol' belly and showing him about how far up my uterus had grown. He was impressed. "Off to each side of the uterus are these little organs called ovaries," I said, making little o's with each hand above the grapes.

"Ok, let me find something for the ovaries," he said. I stopped him and told him we didn't really have time for all the visuals.

"The ovaries are connected to the uterus by tubes called the fallopian tubes. A tubal ligation is where they make little incisions in a woman, one for a camera so they can see and another for this instrument that has something like a laser on it to cut the tubes to prevent women from having babies," I said, emphasizing the idea of lasers in hopes it would steer him toward another subject, like Star Wars perhaps. Or anything else really.

"Well, how does that prevent her from having babies?" he questioned, ignoring the bait.

"Sooo, the ovaries have all these little eggs in them and ever so often they travel down the tubes into the uterus where they can grow into a baby. If the eggs can't travel down the tubes, because the tubes are cut, then they can't get to the uterus to grow into a baby," I explained, hoping to sidestep any further questions about just HOW that egg becomes a baby.

"So wait, ALL girls have eggs inside them, like chickens?" he asked.

"Generally speaking, yes, although not anywhere close to that big!" I said. "They are formed when we are growing in our mommy's tummy so we have millions of tiny eggs waiting inside us when we are born."

"So, then Madeline can GROW A BABY?!" he asked, freakily excited.

"No, she can't right now because her body has to mature first," I said, wondering when this conversational workout would end.

"What do you mean, mature?" he wanted to know. Of course.

"So, right now you and Madeline are little kids but in a few years, around when you become teenagers, you will go through what is called puberty. During puberty, your body will become more adult-like. So, you know how daddy has hair under his armpits and on his face? Well, you will start growing hair like that. Your voice will change, get squeaky at first and then deeper and you will start looking more like a man."

"What about Madeline?" he asked.

"Well, she will go through a similar process, only she will become more like me and then will be able to have babies, you know, after she is married," I explained.

"Well, of course she has to be married first," he said. "But...."

"But now it is time for you to go to bed," I said. "Good night!"

"Ok, good night."

Ooo, ooo, ooo, ask me another one!


On the Charts

"I am the entertainer,
And I know just where I stand:
Another serenader,
And another long-haired band.
Today I am your champion.
I may have won your hearts.
But I know the game,
You will forget my name,
And I won't be here
In another year,
If I don't stay on the charts." --Billy Joel

Enter Liam: We had a consult and weight check at his doctor's office yesterday. I was sure it was going to be bad as the little tyke has been hovering under 25 pounds for months and is still straggling far behind his peer group in developmental skills.

Weighing in at 24 pounds, 11 ounces and a bit over 35 inches tall, his doctor got all excited.

"Look at that! Liam is on the charts!" he exclaimed, pointing to his computer screen. Sure enough, there was Liam's little weight dot, just barely touching the 3rd percentile line. "I mean, it isn't the best growth ever but it has been a long time since he's been there," he went on, maintaining his optimism.

Meanwhile, I was marveling over his height, securely in the 25th percentile. While that doesn't exactly make him the Jolly Green Giant, at least he could wear the pants of Little Green Sprout now (assuming he can use a belt of course.)

So, I guess all those bags of potato chips are working, sort of. Better keep it up Liam because as Billy Joel points out, you won't be here in another year if you don't stay on the charts! (Hey, he said it, not me!)

Now, on to the geneticist we go! Hurray!


Have a Little Faith?

"There is a prayer which especially in our times would be so apt: ‘God in heaven, I thank you for not requiring a person to comprehend Christianity, for if it were required, then I would be of all men the most miserable. The more I seek to comprehend it, the more I discover merely the possibility of offense. Therefore, I thank you for requiring only faith and I pray you will continue to increase it." --Søren Kierkegaard

"...doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world". --Kierkegaard

"Mom, is Santa real?" Lily asked me on the way home from picking up Madeline.

Long pause as I contemplated asking her to define real.

"Well, what do you think?" I asked back.

"Of course he is real," Matt interrupted. (Matt is the child we take home a few days a week as part of our carpool. Name has been changed for privacy.)

"Uh, how do you know?" Madeline asked. "Maybe it is just your mommy and daddy giving you presents." I cringed. Is the gig really up this early? Gulp.

Matt came to the rescue. "I know...because, um uh, last year we went to my grandma and grandpa's cabin and, um when we got back there were presents in our house from Santa!"

"Maybe your neighbor left them there," Madeline suggested. Seriously kid?! What gives?

"Yeah, maybe my neighbor IS Santa!" he said excitedly. Oh gee, this is not going well.

"Mom, I don't know if Santa is real or not," Madeline said, pointedly.

"Well, you better figure it out because I am guessing Santa won't waste his time at our house anymore if you don't believe in him," I said.

"Moooom, I do believe in Santa," she said. "I just don't know if he is real."

My bad.

But you know? For a five year old, that's pretty deep. While I am not going to start calling her Kierkegaard just yet, I have to admit, that she has pinpointed faith in a tiny nutshell for a lot of people. Then again, we were talking about Santa....

And then there is Lily....

On the way to church this morning, all was quiet when Lily confidently spoke up.

"You know mom, I believe in Santa and God AND the Tooth Fairy." (Probably in that order, too....)

And just so ya'll know, I took it as words of affirmation in a parenting job well-done....after all, I am in fact two of those figures and that is not as easy as it seems. Why, just the other night I almost totally blew it on one of them when Madeline lost her first tooth around 7:30 p.m. It was bedtime and she brushed the thing right out of her mouth.

"MOOOOOOM! MY TOOTH JUST FELL OUT! MOOOOOOOM!" she screamed wildly as we all went running up to see.

Now typically, this would not be a problem, but Kurt was out of town all weekend and I had no cash on me, well, not the right amount for a first tooth anyway. And I wasn't about to rush 4 kids out to get change for a $20 bill. I thought about calling a neighbor for some help but instead decided to wait until they were all asleep and then go see if any of their piggy banks had the money in it. (Ok, throw me out of the running for parent of the year here but in my defense, I would have paid it back later!) Liam only had a $20 bill (why in the world would my TWO YEAR OLD have a $20 bill? I don't know and if you ask him, he won't be able to tell you either!) Aidan had the $5 I was looking for but it was the only. bill. he. had. left.....meaning, I couldn't really take it because if by chance he decided to count his money in comparison when Madeline ran around showing what the Tooth Fairy brought her, he'd realize it was gone and probably figure me out. Lily's piggy bank yells when messed with (dang Money Monster!) so I didn't bother with hers and Madeline had everything BUT a $5 bill in it. Of course.

It was then getting late so I rummaged through my closet, looking for bills that I may have left in any of my pants pockets. The only thing I found was a ten. It would have to do. (Just in case Aidan asked, I came up with a good reason why Madeline's first tooth made her $5 more than his: because the Tooth Fairy likes Madeline better....kidding! I would have told him that the Tooth Fairy loves EXTRA clean teeth and since Madeline had been brushing hers when it fell out leaving it sparkly white, the Tooth Fairy probably felt it was worth just a little more....what can I say, they taught us about the BIG LIE theory in middle school and I guess it just stuck.)

At any rate, as the Tooth Fairy was quietly sneaking back into the girls room to retrieve the tooth and place the money under Madeline's pillow, the snoring Lily popped her eyes wide open and looked straight at me. I froze.

"What are you doing?" she asked, more asleep than not.

"Just checking on you," I said while stealthily sticking the bill in my pocket.

"Can you get me some water?" she asked.

"Why, of course," I said. Phew, that was a close one.

She was asleep when I got back and the trade went off as planned. It does make one ponder: Who came up with this idea anyhow? And why do so many of us go along with it?!

Forget the chickens. I believe there is something totally awesome right over that cliff....I just don't know if it is real. And that, my dear readers, is Graceful...Like a Lemming.

Have a great week! :)


"Now, wipe that chicken off your face and get up on stage!"

Apparently, September is National Chicken Month! Who knew?!

"For over two decades, the National Chicken Council has banded together all of the major chicken producers in the U.S. to promote chicken sales in September, turning a once slow month, as the summer grilling season waned, into one of the year’s best performing sales periods." --National Chicken Month Consumer Info

So, I went to this site and lo and behold, by registering, I get to use all their great chicken photos! And how disappointed was I when I found out, they were all either cooked or ready to be so.....(Reminds me of a couple years back when Kurt and his brothers went on a Rush tour, 6 shows in 9 days or something like that, only to return and get me all excited that Rush had chickens on stage at every concert. I was in la-la land about the idea of live chickens prancing around on stage. Come to find out, they were rotisserie chickens, like 40-60 of them per show....roasting....during the concert....something about Geddy Lee wanting to balance our Alex's guitar amps with machines of his own....it's supposed to be funny....I guess we had to be there....)

Anyhow, I have to admit, that the pictures I now have complete access to make my mouth water! So, eat up, all ye chicken lovers! (Never mind the fact that if you're thinking about it in light of this blog, it makes for one sick image...For example, that is obviously not Roasted Liam as he doesn't have that much meat in his whole body!)

ANYWAY, school is in full swing, and we are happily returning to our routines. One of my favorite activities is walking the nearby lake with friends. Usually this means I am pushing at least two kids in a stroller and sometimes it means overhearing fabulous conversations, like this one earlier in the week:

I was walking the lake with the girls in the double stroller when Lily started whining a bit and said, "Mom, we need to go home! My eye hurts REALLY bad!"

Before I could say anything, Madeline looked over at her and responded, "Um, then stop poking your eyeball with your finger, Lily!"

Hee hee, now THAT is funny...or maybe you had to be there.

Happy National Chicken Month!


IT'S A....


(Sorry...I couldn't help myself!)

So, we had our ultrasound a week or so ago, during which I had flashbacks to when I was pregnant with Madeline. Like her pregnancy, early blood testing says this baby is at higher risk for special needs (shoot, aren't they all in one way or another?) As with her, we were sent to the genetic counselor (who confirmed nothing we didn't already know) and did a Level II ultrasound (always pretty nifty if you ask me). And although everything looks great with baby, there is a slight variance in the placenta which means we will have ultrasounds every 5-6 weeks to check on growth. (They call them placental lakes, of which I have 3, and from what I understand, they are basically varicose veins in the placenta.....hardly a surprise since I seem to have them everywhere else during pregnancy, so why not there?!)

At any rate, the difference between Minnesota and California is this: when we told them in CA we would not be having an amnio, that it would not change our path at all, they gave us a hard time. They put pressure on us to have one done "in order to make an informed decision" and when we again declined (over and over) they made us sign a waiver saying we were opting out. Here in MN, they mentioned it once in passing and when we didn't jump, they left it alone, congratulating us on the pregnancy and reassuring us that, although they couldn't tell us for certain whether the baby would have that extra 21st chromosome, everything looked as good as possible. That's good enough for this Mother Hen!

Tomorrow starts the new school year and I must admit, I am surprisingly a little emotional with Madeline going off to Kindergarten. (Can anyone say pregnancy hormones?) Just last night I was thinking about how fast the time has gone. I recall being a few days shy of my due date with her when the contractions started. My mom urged us to leave and we arrived at the hospital, six centimeters dilated....nine by the time we got settled into the room. She was born soon thereafter; quick enough that I actually felt a little cheated, though I would never admit that out loud! (For the sake of comparison, Aidan's labor had taken 12 hours from the time we got to the hospital. With Madeline, I hardly had time to settle into my room before she popped on out....And for the record, I would be totally okay with that this time around....and also for the record, it is not okay for anyone other than the mother (I'm talking to you men out there!) to use the expression "popped on out" as that doesn't exactly describe the birthing process...)

And yet, it has been over five years since she was born and now this sweet child, who regularly tells people I am not getting fat, I am just growing a baby, is off to Kindergarten. I assume my mom can remember me going off to Kindergarten and yet now I am pregnant with baby number 5....And my grandmother can remember birthing her 5 babies and now her 5th granddaughter is sending her own 5 year old off to school...you get my point. This life cycle thing goes way too fast. I've long thought that the easiest way to slow down time is to be pregnant, or at least waiting for something important. Yet, the perception of crawling time doesn't linger, and unfortunately, time and precious memories often get lost along the way. (Which is why I really need that new camera, Kurt! hee hee) But, that brings me back to this heart tug I am feeling. Madeline will be off on a new adventure, one more step closer to independence. While I am joyful for her excitement and thankful for her health and happiness, there's still that part of me that can't believe we are already here. And in a blink of an eye, she'll be the mom sending her child off to school......which would make me the grandma! YIKES! Who has control of this speeding train anyway??? I need to have a talkin' with them!

And so, (she says, raising her proverbial non-alcoholic sparkling beverage) to all of you out there who are celebrating the fresh start of the school year, while also mourning the passing of yet another summer:
Chin chin!
Bottoms Up!
Pura Vida!
A Votre Sante!

And, while I highly doubt I will feel this way a week from now, could you please pass the tissues?!


Funny.....But Wrong!

News Flash: Lily has struck again.

We went to the wedding of our best babysitter ever this weekend with all four kids in tow. (I'll admit, tears shed on our part were only semi-happiness as we see the loss of a great caregiver in our near future!) Now, while I don't recommend EVER going to a wedding (or anywhere else for that matter) with four young children, this was entirely called for since the bride is good friends with our kids as well. At any rate, after the ceremony and before the reception, we were waiting outside at a table with a nut mix centerpiece. After the nuts were no longer novel, Kurt was off gathering drinks for the kids, Liam found a "friend" to walk around collecting rocks with, Aidan became best buddies with nine-year-old twin boys whose end game seemed to be "who can gather the most grass stains in the shortest amount of time" and Madeline and Lily were just hanging around, fluttering in and out of playing with other kids and yanking my dress too far down as I spoke to some other parents.

Needless-to-say, our table was soon taken over by an older couple who seemed to enjoy just watching the action. Not too long thereafter, Lily, being Lily, decided to go sit down with the older couple. From what they told us, the conversation she had with them went something like this:

"Well, how old are you?" the woman asked Lily.

"I'm four. How old are you?" Lily asked the woman.

"Why, I'm 72," she replied.

Lily, getting up from the table, hunched her back over as far as she could, unsteadily started to creep around, shaking her arms and limping and asked, "Does that mean you walk like this?"

Move over Emily Post!


Chick-lead Worship

It was a Sunday. Kurt was out of town and I was preparing for a Baby Shower Luncheon I was to host the next day when I realized I had made the ghastly mistake of taking away screen time from the kids for some minor infraction earlier in the day. We had missed church that morning due to Lily having had a random fever the previous night so in a last ditch effort to gain some kid-free prep time, I sat them down and told them they were going to have to prepare a worship service for me.

"What?" Aidan questioned. "We can't do that. We aren't adults."

"Of course you can," I assured him.

"How?" he asked.

"Well, you will be in charge of picking out a bible story and planning a sermon to preach, " I said, his mouth dropping open. "Madeline, you will be in charge of picking out some church songs you know and leading us in music. Lily, you are going to be in charge of praying."

"What? I can't pray," Lily said. "I don't know how."

"Sure you do. You pray before dinner and bedtime everyday," I said. "Just take those prayers and make up your own similar to them."

"Ooooooh, I see," she said.

Aidan still looked like he was uncertain.

"Why do I have to preach?" he asked. "I'm only a kid, you should preach."

"Sorry, you are in charge of the preaching. Just read the story and figure out what it means and tell us that," I said, sending them upstairs to figure it all out.

I had barely enough time to clear the table when Aidan came down to tell me they were ready. (So much for the extra time.)

We got upstairs where Aidan had built an extremely well fortified, four foot block tower in the middle of the room and carefully placed his bible on top. (I have to admit, I was already impressed.)

Madeline, Lily and I sat in front of him as he read us the story of Jesus' birth. About half way through, Liam comes running out of the bathroom with about ten feet of toilet paper streaming behind him. Aidan doesn't look up so I quietly throw as much of it back into the bathroom as I can while pulling Liam into my lap. The girls stifle their giggles.

"So, does anyone know what this story is about?" Aidan questions us as he finishes the reading. Madeline raises her hand.

"Yes, Madeline," Aidan says.

"It's about God's love for us and how he gives us Jesus," she replies.

"That's close, Madeline," Aidan says. "This story is about how God loves us so much he sends Jesus here to teach us how to live. Ok, Madeline, your turn."

Madeline jumps up and begins belting out Jesus Loves Me, hushing us when we try to join in. She then sits back down, telling Lily it is her turn. Lily gets up in front and starts into Johnny Appleseed, with a twist.

"Ooooh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me food, and love, and a mom and a dad, and all the stuff he gives us. Amen," she sing-songs, sitting back down. Liam is raising his hand at this point with a huge smile on his face.

"Liam wants a turn," Madeline shouts.

"Ok, Liam, what would you like to sing?" I ask, as he waddles up front. He immediately signs Baby Signing Time and we all laugh, singing the chorus to his favorite DVD. He runs off into another room when he is finished.

At this point, Aidan notices the toilet paper on the floor and, hanging a rather large piece around his neck, explains that if he is going to be the preacher, he needs one of these.

"Ahh, your stole," I tell him. "Of course!"

Aidan goes to his make-shift pulpit and with a bit more confidence, chooses a second story to read us. After he is done, Liam comes running out with The Money Monster (that is, Lily's very greedy and obnoxious talking piggy bank.) I start laughing.

"Well, if we are going to worship, we had better collect the offering!" I tell him.

Madeline gets up to lead us in Praise Ye the Lord and then Lily decides she will do another rendition of Johnny Appleseed. Liam starts signing Baby Signing Time again so we all join him when it occurs to me, every worship service ought to have The Lord's Prayer.

"Hey, Aidan, would you please lead us in the Lord's Prayer?" I ask.

"Ok!" he says as he eagerly jumps back up in front. "Dear Lord, Thank you for giving us all the things you give us and for sending Jesus here to earth to show us how to live better lives. And thank you for...(He went on for a good minute, praying better than many adults, albeit not The Lord's Prayer.) "Amen."

"Um, Aidan, that was a wonderful prayer, but it wasn't The Lord's Prayer," I said.

"Yes, it was," he corrected me. "Ooooh, wait, I know what you mean," he said. And we began, "Our Father....."

There is nothing quite like a kid-lead worship service to start the week. Next time, I just gotta remember the video camera!


This Week's Lily Quips

We were driving down the road when I called to attention the fact that the car smelled terrible. (A cup full of milk had soured somewhere yet I had not been able to find it.)

Lily quickly replied, "No mom, that's not the car."

"It isn't?" I asked.

"No, it's Madeline," she said with certainty; which was met with screams of horror from the accused sitting next to her.

And let me just tell you, it's really hard to admonish a child when you are quietly snickering....


"Mom, who's the fattest in our family?" Aidan asked while we were sitting at lunch the other day.

"Well, no one is really fat in our family, Aidan," I told him.

"Yah huh! YOU are!" Lily instantly quipped, almost shouting.

With as much drama as I could muster I gasped, "LILY! I am NOT fat!"

Lily's eyes widened as she sunk deep into her chair and mumbled, "Maybe just a little fat though, right?"

Hee hee, ok, maybe just a little on the "rounder-out-front" side.....


The Broccoli

What happens when the novice gardener (a.k.a me) doesn't know it's harvest time:

And because Kurt gave me a hard time about putting the beautiful flowering broccoli in a vase, this could also be labeled:

What happens when you don't ever give your spouse flowers....


What happens when you chop down every last hydrangea bloom on the plant out back (and throw them away!) without asking....


Need I go on? :)


The Honest Child

While I don't like to make a habit of telling second hand stories about my kids, this one is too good to pass up.

The other night, after having put the kids to bed, I was sitting at the table listening to the girls scrambling around their room. How two kids, who don't weigh 75 pounds combined, can sound like a heard of elephants is beyond me, but one thing is certain: they were not sleeping.

Kurt came in and asked what was going on up there. I told him they were "going to bed" but perhaps he could go settle them down since my efforts had not been fruitful. His story goes something like this:

"Girls, it's time to lay down and go to sleep," Kurt said after entering their bedroom. Madeline was sitting "innocently" on her bed, reading books while Lily was standing up in the middle of her bed, with a spastic energy about her. Both girls complained they "couldn't get to sleep." (Probably due to the circus activities I had been hearing overhead for the last 20 minutes, but then, that's only a guess.) Kurt put them both into "sleeping" position while telling them to be quiet.

"The problem is, I have a headache," Lily said. Kurt went to rub her head and found her dripping with sweat.

"That's because you've been running around up here getting all sweaty," Kurt told her.

Then Madeline chimed in, "Yeah, and because I have been hitting you over the head with my books."

There is nothing quite like an honest child. Have a great weekend!


The Trip: An Overview

I read a book recently by Max Lucado. It was great. I checked it out of my church library and when I got home realized it was the "Comfort Print Edition" (a.k.a LARGE PRINT). I have to admit, it was certainly comfy!

At any rate, one page of his book really struck me as a writer. In it, he wrote:

"I believe in brevity. Cut the fat and keep the fact. Give us words to chew on, not words to wade through. Thoughts that spark, not lines that drag. More periods. Fewer commas.
Distill it.
Barebone it.
Bareknuckle it.
Concise (but not cute). Clear (but not shallow). Vivid (but not detailed.) That's good writing. That's good reading. But that's hard work!" --from When God Whispers Your Name.

Ok, so I fail miserably at brevity in this blog (forgive me but I really like complete sentences!) but for the sake of time, here are a few highlights from this year's FL trip (as concise as I can make 'em...which ain't very!)

The house next to my parents' house recently sold. It's a wreck. The yard is a wreck. The house is a wreck. It's being torn apart inside to prepare for the new family. Workers are there each day but what struck me is this: I was there for over 3 weeks and outside that house sat a pink toilet. In the yard. For three weeks. And of course, this is the house across the street from the people who planted a cactus wall in their front yard and painted the house lime green and have giant tortoises for pets....and who live next to the couple who have trained the neighborhood flock of peacocks to come at certain times to be fed.

I turned out okay, don't ya think?

Liam: We have such a hard time getting Liam to eat (hence the lack of growth) but one day, while out by the pool, I discovered that he LOVES to be squirted in the face with a spray bottle. (Apparently he takes after our cat.) So that afternoon, I was able to get him to eat an entire meal by spraying him for every bite he took. Hey, whatever works.

One day I took the four kids and their cousin down the to park. It was a fairly hot day so we retreated into a nice gazebo where we played Duck, Duck, Goose around a picnic table. Liam, not understanding exactly how it works and being our "lover-child", opted to go around hugging everyone until, after about the third time around, I finally yelled Goose for him. Instead of running back to the empty seat, he ran down the ramp, away from the gazebo. If only I had brought that spray bottle to keep him close!

Lily: When we arrived in Florida, we stopped by my brother Andrew's house for dinner before finishing up the last three hours of driving. As we were loading up to leave, Andrew brought out a pair of his daughter's clogs to hand down to Lily.

"Here Lily, try on these shoes," he said.

"No," Lily refused, suspiciously.

"Lily, just try them on to see if they fit and you can have them," Andrew said.

"No," she stubbornly replied.

"Lily, guess what? These are Magical Princess Shoes!" Andrew explained in an hushed yet excitable tone of voice. "If you put them on, they will turn you into a Princess!"

Lily started crying. "I don't want to try them on."

"Lily, it's okay. You don't have to try them on," Andrew said. "But if you want to be a princess, you have to put them on."

I got into the car. Lily, still crying, blurted out, "Mommy, I don't WANT to be a princess! Do I have to put them on?"

I don't think she is going to wear those shoes, ever. Unless, perhaps, they become "Magical Dragon Shoes" or something.

Madeline: Swimming in the pool one day, Madeline was staring at my rapidly growing belly and said, "Mom, I hope you have another boy.....or a girl."

Phew, I think we got that one covered.

Later in the trip, Madeline was getting homesick.

"Mom, how long until we go home to Minnesota?"

"Two days," I said.

"Ahhh, on one hand that is sad because we have to leave grandma but on the other hand it is happy because we'll get to see Leroy!" (Sorry Kurt, you got trumped by the cat.)

I arrived in Florida with one fairly strong swimmer (Aidan) and three certain drowners. I am happy to report that after three weeks, I brought home 1 strong swimmer, 1 super-duper doggy-paddler (i.e. non-drowner!), 1 so-close-to-getting-it-you-can-almost-imagine-the-drowner-is-just-floating-contently, and one still certain drowner (as was proven a day or two before we left when Liam got knocked into the deep-end on accident and I had to go jumping in after him in my brand spanking new running shoes....what we do for our kids, sheesh!)

And finally, I knew I had fully reintegrated into the south when, after almost hitting a huge wild turkey flying across the highway, my first thought was: "Gee, I wonder if it'd be legal to take it on home to cook up for dinner...you know, if you accidentally hit the thing."


The Zucchini (or When Bigger is Not Better)

Three and a half weeks. That is how long the kids and I were in Florida. After having planted our huge garden out back in late May and early June, we left it in the care of Kurt while we traveled south. Now, when we left, the plants were all seedlings and starter plants: tiny, pathetic looking things, some seemingly unsustainable looking in that great big space.

Then it rained and the sun shined and Kurt tended the garden ever so carefully. And we came back to a forest of tomato plants that had pulled their cages out of the ground and were grabbing out for anything they might catch a hold of while falling every which way, cucumber and squash vines that had all but taken over an entire side of the fence, bell peppers spilling forth, peas and beans coming out the wazoo, baby lettuce that was far past its edibility...and then there was the zucchini plant. Having claimed a rather modest section of the garden to itself, it was healthy but looked like a pretty regular plant as far as I could tell. And then I looked to see if there was anything ready to pick.

Have you ever tried to explain to a guy that there are things in life that are not better when bigger? Let's just say, there is a reason they don't sell zucchini like this in the grocery store. (For starters, it would cost you like $10 upfront, not to mention the medical costs later for throwing your back out loading it into the cart....)

At least the girls got a kick out of it. And who knows, maybe it will give us the urge to enter some veggies in the state fair one of these years....


The Drive

"Chickens also travel well! When we moved from California to New Jersey just a few months ago, instead of giving away our favorite hens we decided to drive across the country with them, and our two rabbits. We had no idea how they would react to 5 days in a car. I had premonitions of being driven mad by continuous screeching and wondered if we would consider chicken salad somewhere around day 3." --From the transcript for the piece: Adventures with Chickens. (This person is like my new hero....chickens AND rabbits! Now THAT is the good life!)

As it turns out, there isn't a whole lot on the web about traveling with chickens. I am guessing that's because most people don't travel much with chickens in tow. Not so with children since it's not like you can just leave them in the coop by themselves and hope for the best. So, when it came time to make our annual pilgrimage to Florida this summer, my mom flew out, we packed up the four kids, and off we trekked, 1600 miles from Minnesota down to Florida, by car...I understand something about considering chicken salad around day 3...the chicks are lucky it only took us two days!

Actually, truth be told, the drive down was pretty non-eventful. The kids were fairly good; we had no major kid-fits until a certain dramatic child completely broke down in the very last few hours of the drive, and except for being bored out of our mind driving through Iowa (no offense to my Iowan friends) and not being able to find a hotel with vacancies for over an hour somewhere in Tennessee late Saturday night, it really went well.

Oh and there was that one lunch stop on Saturday that wasn't perfect as well. It was Lily's fourth birthday on Saturday and so I told her she could choose what she wanted for lunch. Quite unfortunately, she wanted cheesy noodles. (I suppose I should have been a little more specific in the options!)

So, because I am truly my father's child, I did what he would have done: stopped at McDonald's for the other kids, headed over to KFC in hopes that they would have mac-N-cheese as a side dish, in the drive over realized Aidan's burger wasn't cooked to order, arrived at KFC only to find that it had no power, thus no chicken (and mac-n-cheese wasn't even on the menu, doh!), headed to Jack-in-the-Box with fingers crossed that their menu would include cheesy noodles of any sort (nope) and ordered almost the identical order there that we had at our first stop. Lily then announced she needed to go potty while Aidan found that they had forgotten the cheese on his cheeseburgers...sent mom inside to work out both situations while I tried to eat as much of my salad as I could since, as it turns out, driving and salad eating are not so very compatible. And I wonder why it took us so long to get here!

One of the funniest moments of the trip was about half way through day two when Lily started crying, seemingly out of nowhere. After a few minutes Aidan turned around in his seat and said, "Lily, I told you not to join Madeline's club. She executes EVERYBODY!"

And apparently she does it very, very quietly.

And then there were the teaching moments. My favorite was upon finally reaching the south. You know you are in a southern state when you are looking for exit 4, so you start counting exits in the beginning of the state. We passed exit 1 and then exit 4 came next.

"Wait, there wasn't a 2 or 3," Aidan said. Yes son, they do things a little differently down south. Take counting for instance....(I know they have a reason, well, I am assuming there is a good explanation but it was funny nonetheless.)

It was also interesting to watch the different billboards in the differing regions of the country. In the mid-west, you have pro-life signs followed by those telling teens to prevent the stork from showing up unexpectedly through "waiting" to those telling you to give kids over 2 years of age fat-free milk instead of whole. You get to the southern states and you have just as many "life begins at conception" signs but they are followed by signs for the next adult superstore or "entertainment" club. Just an observation.

And personalities are very different between the midwestern states and the south as well. You go into a gas station in the midwest and you're lucky to make eye-contact with the clerk (although they are polite when they do address you.) In the south however, they start tellin' ya all about their family, asking abou'cher kids and where yer headed while making sure to let ya know to just holler if ya'll need anything now, ya hear?

I could go on but having just been on the road for two days straight, I'm in need of some serious shut-eye. Plus, the peacock next door keeps calling me to come see something....either that or it is just a highly annoying bird!

G'night ya'll!


How Do they Find Me???

Crazy Chicken is a fast card game in which players try to lay as many different 'crazy chickens' as possible ... but if their opponent lays more than they have, they must discard all those chickens!

I have come to the conclusion recently that I must have a stamped forehead: Come all ye crazy people, Speak to me. (But since my forehead isn't that big it probably reads something more like "...crazy...me...") Really, am I a magnet for this stuff?

You see, I had this neighbor call me up and ask me if I would help her sell some stuff on eBay. She knew I had done some selling there at one time and really needed to learn how to do it. That's certainly innocent enough, so I said, "Sure, why not?"

Well, let me tell you why not. I had already said 'sure, I'm happy to help' before she went into the back story... but before I can tell you THAT story, I have to tell you this one: (Sorry, too many Captain Underpants books...)

A few years back, this neighbor burnt down her house. Not all of it mind you, just most of it. (Like in the Princess Bride: "Your friend here is only mostly dead. There is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead." You see, it wasn't all burnt down, just mostly burnt down....) Now, for some people, like most of the other neighbors, this is reason enough to assume she is a nut and should be avoided at all cost. But, in my very unassuming way, I just figured she made a big mistake (leaving that candle burning under the bathroom window, complete with curtain drooping down....) because she is kind of spacey, and that shouldn't necessarily be held against her. So, after burning her house down she had to go buy the stuff she lost in the fire. In comes her story.

So, apparently when she was having to go buy stuff with the insurance money as quickly as possible, this "mentor" of hers, who happens to be a witch (according to my neighbor) put a spell on her and made her come to believe that they were best friends and that she should buy all these high ticket items for her witch-friend, and matching everything for herself too, of course. We're talking Prada this, and Marc Jacobs that. Shoes that cost more than my wardrobe and sweaters and hand bags that cost thousands of dollars a piece. (Brand names I have never heard of because you have to shop somewhere other than Target and Costco....and the towns they do business in....) There were matching emerald rings (and even one for the witch's husband) and man, the list goes on. And the scam went on for well over a year.

Ok, I have to pause here. Really? A witch? And a spell? Are you NUTS? She claims she spent over $30,000 on this woman, who assured her she would pay her all back for everything and that they were best friends and that this is what best friends do for each other....yadda yadda yadda. This is where I have to hold back from shouting: HELLOOOOOO?! What planet are you living on?! And how did you survive almost 60 years of life there?

So, there I am, day one of "Selling on eBay 101" listening to this bizarre story. She goes on and on and then tells me her siblings offered to help her sell it all but that she can't have them help her because she knows they will just think she is nuts....(you know, unlike the rest of us.) Funny thing is, I think I must have told her she was crazy at least half a dozen times as she spoke.

"At what point in all this buying did you realize you were being scammed?" I asked. "I mean, if she is never paying you back and keeps saying she is good for it, didn't you think maybe you ought to wait and see if she would ever come through?" (Why Karen? Why are you presenting rational questions?)

"Oh, then she started trying to get me to leave my husband and move in with her and now I know it was because she wanted me to be her slave....turns out she is a part of a group that sells sex to put people under their control and...."

Aaaaaand, you lost me. WHAT?

So, she's in my house, my kids are playing nearby, mostly out of earshot fortunately, and I begin to tell her the ins and outs of selling on eBay versus Craigslist. I ask her the logical questions: Have you tried taking this stuff back to the high-end stores you bought them from? (Yes, they would only take some of it.) Have you thought about maybe just selling them at a Consignment Store? (Which lead to a thirty minute debate over why couldn't she sell them and keep all the money rather than let someone else sell them and take half of it? My rational answers of course landed themselves on my ceiling fan I think because she couldn't comprehend why she couldn't get the majority of her money back from these items. Her argument? Her sister-in-law had sold her mother's entire estate on eBay and made over $80,000 and it was all high end stuff, so why couldn't she get her money back for her high end stuff? Uh....ok, you're right. My bad. We do in fact live in an ideal world. It always works that way and I am sure she made that much money.)

So, after deciding it would be best to post for free on Craigslist to begin with and see how it goes, we got to work. We spent an hour the first day setting up her various accounts and posting a few things. Then she came back the next day and we took all the pictures for the entire lot of items when we were interrupted by the arrival of my piano student (whom I lavishly thanked for coming hours early). And finally, we finished up all the postings the third day, yesterday. Phew. Good deed done. I'm washing my hands of it right......

And then I get the phone message today:

"Karen, I had someone respond to the post for the man's emerald ring. He says he will pay with paypal which is totally legit, but that he is currently traveling and can't come see it so he will pay extra money to have it sent and insured. He wants it for a gift for his cousin. What do you think? My husband says I can use his paypal account but I thought I would check with you. It sounds legit right?"

Sigh. So, you want me to tell you that the guy who is not going to come and look at the ring, didn't bother asking what size it was or any other relevant questions about it, who so happens to be "traveling" and needs it right now and is offering to pay you MORE money than you ask sounds legit? Hmmm. I could be wrong but USUALLY if your gut feeling tells you to call and ask someone else whether it was a good offer....I dunno. What do you think?

I think, in the hand of Crazy Chickens, I win. You guys can go ahead and discard now while I go scrub the stamp off my head....

p.s. If you are a friend of mine and want to tell me your crazy story, just get it over with quickly will ya? I'll add you to my pile. (And somehow still love you none the less.)

Note to the future

"Ok you two, you guys decide whose book gets read first and I'll be right over," I told the girls the other night, while finishing up the dishes. They were sitting on the couch together in the adjacent room, each holding their book selection for the night.

"Mine first!" Lily shouted, half laughing.

"You guys need to decide together, Lily. Talk it over with Madeline, " I said.

"Lily's first," Madeline declared.

Lily looked at her, a confused expression sliding over her face.

"Really? Why?" Lily asked. (I imagine her eyes squinted with suspicion...)

"Because I LOOOOOOVE Lily sooooooo much!" Madeline said with glee.

"No, Madeline, your book first, because I LOOOOOOOOVE Madeline, SOOOOOOO MUCH!" Lily shouted in suit.

This continued on until I arrived on the scene to prevent fighting over who got to selflessly go second.....

I had to write this story in here so that in about 10 years, when puberty has struck our house, I can prove to the girls that at one time in their lives, they really did get along. And actually love each other.