Saturday, September 29, 2007

What I Did Today

At the beginning of the day, our sadly overlooked RV access side-of-the-house planting area looked like this:

As you can see, it is the only area I did not weed regularly throughout the season. I'm sure our immediate neighbor loved how it added to the curb appeal of his house, although to his credit he never mentioned a thing about it.

After a few hours of weeding, transplanting, raking and staking (and because I don't ever want to pull another weed as long as I live) it looked like this:

Now, it looks like this:

It's just a few bags of tan bark (and maybe a few more plants) short of a cared-for planter. I'm quite pleased.

That is a fruiting olive tree in the middle, by the way. I love these trees but never had one because they are so messy. However, this is a little used, off-to-the-side area for us, so I figured it could fruit and drop all it wanted here. Plus, I figure it is a nice thing to do for all the birds who already use our hot tub as a bird bath. They can come to the tree for their morning snack when they are finished bathing.

At any rate, I am truly surprised by how satisfying gardening can be. I never thought this would become a hobby of mine, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

Now let's just hope the plants survive the winter, because, according to anyone that knows my gardening track record, that would be the strangest thing of all!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seven Months Old Already

Seven months of sweet snuggles, baby sighs and interrupted nights. Seven months of light-up-her-whole-face smiles, babbling and drool. Seven months of milestones, growth and diapers.

Seven months of sibling affection. Seven months of joy. Seven months of love.

No wonder seven is my lucky number.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Too Busy?

There is a fine line between being involved in your community and being, quite simply, too busy. I may not have actually crossed the line, but I am dancing close to it.

This week I have not been home one night. Every single night there has been a meeting or an event that I have had to attend (or, I should say, chosen to attend, because, really, it's all a choice, right?).

The kids don't seem to mind--they love having a babysitter and I have kept it varied for them by rotating through our stable of sitters this week. I, too, like the variety of the various activities, especially since we have actually managed to sit down for dinner as a family each night (except one) before I have run out the door. But tonight I have found myself asking, "When is one more thing too much?"

Not every week is this busy. This week we had two back to school nights and a lovely dinner at the rectory as extraordinary additions to the usual routine of choir practice, Opus Dei, sporting and scouting events. By themselves, each item we participate in, either ongoing or extraordinary, is worthy of our time. But when do we decide that the best use of our time is doing nothing at all beyond spending the evening together in our home?

I love being involved in our church and school. I love that our children ultimately benefit from our activities through the friendships we strike up with other involved families. However, I am sensing the onset of diminishing returns in all that we do, and I am hoping I can be a good judge of what I should say "no" to. I want to enrich my children's upbringing through community involvement, not neglect them in the name of volunteerism.

I guess that is what the downtime of summer is for--doing much more "nothing" and a lot less "something". But how to make it through the longer months of the school year? Well, I guess Nancy Reagan said it best: Just say no. Perhaps I should give it a try.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Idea of the Year

Our playroom is out of control. Baskets upon baskets of toys, most of which are no longer played with, fill so much of the space that there isn't enough room for the kids to enjoy the things they actually do use.

I know I have to go through and get rid of stuff, but I dread this task for many reasons. Most of all, I cringe from the inevitable chorus of "What happened to _______ ?" that is sure to start just as soon as the items have left the premises. Items I could have sworn the kids had forgotten about are suddenly their most favorite, treasured toys and I am the Wicked Witch of the West for sending them away.

As I was pondering this today, I had a rare and sudden flash of brilliance. Why not let the kids administer their own playroom thinning? Sounded good to me, so I decided to give it a try.

After dinner I had each child go upstairs and select three items from the playroom that they could part with. Next (and this is the good part) I had them get buy-in from their siblings on the items they had chosen. For example, if Lindsey couldn't bear to part with something Sam had chosen she had the right to veto it, but then she had to go choose something to replace it. They could veto things as many times as they wanted , but they were not free to go until they had collectively delivered me the whole lot of a dozen things.

Nothing like peer pressure to get a job done fast. In less than 5 minutes they had cheerfully delivered me a nice pile and got on with their evening. No tears, no surprises and I am on my way to a cleaner playroom. Now if I can just keep this up about 3 times a week, in a few months the playroom will be painlessly trimmed down.

Yes siree, I am feeling mighty proud of myself tonight. But we all know that pride cometh before a fall, so check in with me in a week or so to see how the mighty have fallen. Or simply failed to continue to enforce this really good idea, as the case may be.

Not that this has happened to me before or anything.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Guess They Showed Me

What, exactly, I don't know, but clearly they were making a statement of some kind.

We have two cats that have been alive forever and show no signs they will be leaving us anytime soon. They used to be real pets, but, I'm embarrassed to admit, have been demoted over time to garage-dwelling nuisances. The birth of each child knocked them further down the status chain until they reached their current sorry state. We don't abuse them, we just don't give them much attention. This hasn't seemed to bother them. Until now.

Apparently, the cats are tired of their ranking in our family and have given some thought as to the best way to let me know it. I must admit, their methods are compelling, as they certainly have my attention.

For, as I pulled out Isabella's feeding blanket to use at a school board meeting tonight, I found that it was soaked with cat urine. Apparently, they had climbed in the car and left their mark after one of the children had left the door to the van open this afternoon.

Let me tell you, there is little more charming to bring to a school board meeting than a cat-urine soaked blanket and a hungry baby.

I think I'll buy some catnip the next time I'm at the store.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


We got out of Dodge this weekend.

As usual, I did not want to leave the house. But leave we did, all eight of us plus the dog. And, also as usual, I was glad we went and, yet, equally glad to return home. Some things never change.

We drove up to Northern California where we attended Jay's company picnic at a wonderful venue, Saratoga Springs, in the Silicon Valley. I had a chance to meet his coworkers for the first time, and the kids had a great time on the super sized inflatable slide, obstacle course and playground. There was a creek to explore, volleyball, swimming, balloon animals, face painting, glowing necklaces when it got dark, a bonfire and s'mores. Jay's company went all out for its families and we were appreciative recipients of their hospitality.

As if that wasn't enough fun for one weekend, we found out just as we were leaving that our old parish, not too far to the north in Marin County, was having its annual BBQ the very next day (today). We were coerced (twist our arm, really!) by our dear friends to stay over with them and attend, which we gladly did.

It was really nice to see everyone from our former parish and school. Although we have been to visit many times since our move south, this was the most comprehensive and concentrated gathering of the folks we so hated to leave when we moved. How lucky we are to be able to maintain contact with this second community, where we still feel completely at home. Joey, now a fourth grader, saw his kindergarten and first grade teachers there and was very warmly embraced by both (to his simultaneous delight and horror). All the kids caught up with friends from our annual week of Bible Camp and we adults were free to visit with old friends while they enjoyed yet another day of inflatable obstacle courses and face painting.

So here I sit, completely unprepared for the upcoming week, surrounded by unwashed clothes and unreviewed lesson plans, but totally content with our brief yet fabulous family get away.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Beginnings

Julia, as you can see, is delighted with her new preschool. Today was her first day as a student at Father Serra's Mission Bell Preschool, and it went very well.

After much debate, we decided to switch Julia to a new preschool this year. Though the reasons were all good ones, I still worried as to whether or not we had done the right thing, since she was happy and thriving at her previous Montessori school.

So far, so good, is all I can say. She is thrilled with her new school, and I am happy to have her at a Catholic preschool, close to our house, with children who will be in her Kindergarten class next year.

Although I am a supporter of the Montessori method, I do not see that any of my previous three children have been at an academic advantage as a result of their Montessori preschool years. Since my later-born children are so immersed in a child-friendly environment at home now, with plenty of opportunity to do things for themselves, I no longer think Montessori is the requirement that I once believed it to be.

So, we are experimenting with traditional preschool. My sense is that it will be a successful one. Happy new beginning, Julia!

Monday, September 03, 2007

And You Thought Nothing Grew in the Desert

Well, you're partially right. Nothing you WANT to grow in the desert grows naturally.

But weeds sure do.

Normally I love our big lot. I love that the kids have tons of room to run, that we have room for a pool and a play area, that we are not right on top of our neighbors. However, when I am weeding (which, incidentally, is all I seem to have been doing for weeks now), I am cursing our abundant land with every yank.

"Why," I think to myself as my back locks into a half-bent-over position, "didn't we find ourselves a nice home with only a patio? Or something in a high rise? Or, even better, a house with no landscaping at all aside from the natural vegetation that takes care of itself?" And then, I am inevitably reminded that we have six children that really like to run and tumble, and--oh, yeah--there IS no natural vegetation here other than Joshua trees, and the whole house decision makes sense once again.

I thought I was really clever as I began my weeding hour(s) today in my bathing suit. How refreshing it will be, I thought, to simply jump in the pool when I get too hot. And it WAS it pretty good idea, as the water felt heavenly when I did just that. However, I failed to account for the fact that my back never gets sun and that I would be bent over, back up to the sun, for quite some time. So, now I am enjoying a painful sunburn to go along with the crick in my back. And the strained hamstrings. And the thorns in my fingers because I was too lazy to go get my gloves.

But, hey, I sure got a lot of weeds. A whole yard-waste container full of them. And I can enjoy looking at my weed-free yard for a least three or four days before they all grow back again.