Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend adventure

This weekend Peter, Strider and Colsen all traveled up to Ohio to spend some time with grandparents and cousins, and snow.

We had to say Goodbye to most of our men for a few days...

One of the big exciting things was that this was Colsen's FIRST plane ride.  He had been sooooo looking forward to it -- couldn't wait to FLY.  Right before they left he started to get a little nervous and asked me if there was any chance he could fall out the window, but I assured him he'd be perfectly safe.

And he was.  And he was THRILLED.
As soon as they landed, I talked to him on the phone and he couldn't wait to tell me about how they had been "right up in the clouds!"

For Rayna, Miles and me, the weekend was quieter -- and full of beautiful, sunny, warm weather.  We had a generally relaxing time, although I felt like I was playing Follow The Leader for the entire time.  Neither Rayna nor Miles likes for me to be out of their sight these days, so everywhere I went, they went.  I'm getting used to turning around and immediately having to sidestep a couple of little people if I want to change direction.

We did get a brief break from that game, though, when we went up to the Drescher's on Saturday.  Rayna was thankful to play with her girl cousins, while her brothers were off playing with their boy cousins.  We had a fun time visiting with them, and Nonna and Poppa who were babysitting there.

I've already heard many, many stories about the guys' time this weekend, and I'm sure I'm bound to hear more tomorrow, so another blog post is soon to come about the Ohio Adventures!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Growing in the kitchen

This sprout-grower has given me many moments of happiness this month.  I love having things grow in my kitchen (things I want to have growing that is).  Between these sprouts, the yogurt-maker and the bread machine, I can almost have a whole meal developing on my counter-tops while I'm off doing something more fun!

This week has had plenty of frustrating events (mild in the grand scheme of things, I know, but still)...  There have been many, many spills (an entire bag of popcorn kernels, several cups of dry oats, 2 bottles of spices in my spice drawer, red paint all over the floor, ETC.!); many thwarted schoolwork attempts (including this project failure); and many, many occasions in which disobedient children needed attention. 

(Miles singlehandedly has provided my exercise regimen for the week.  He repeatedly and carelessly disobeys to the point that I have to take him upstairs to his crib.  But if I leave him there for longer than 3 minutes, he tries to take a nap, which would mean disaster for our night-times.  So I go up and down the stairs approximately 36 times each morning.)

So watching the little green sprouts in my kitchen just easily growing up nice and straight -- without even having to repeat myself -- gives me bright spots in the midst of the other little storms of the day.

I read in my Bible study book recently about how the greatest growth in our lives takes place in times when we're feeling the heat, so I guess it's possible that even I myself am "growing in the kitchen" -- since it seems I spend most of my time in that room, and inevitably the crises follow me there.  I think I could learn a thing or two from the sprouts, though.  My growth pattern is not nearly so simple and upward.  How I wish it was!

Monday, January 24, 2011


Colsen:  Is this how it goes?
Rayna:  No, that's backwards.  Turn it around.
Colsen:  Rayna, you're so smart.  You know everything!
Rayna:  What?  I'm so smart?  No I'm not!!
Colsen (getting aggravated and raising his voice):  But Rayna!  "You're so smart" means I LOVE YOU!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

100th School Day of the Year: documented with a lot of pics

Today marked our 100th day of school, so I took a camera with me everywhere we went to mark the momentous occasion (and to just show our typical day this time of year).

First thing this morning was our co-op group.  This time we started with a problem-solving team-based activity that involved making a tower out of spaghetti, mini-marshmallows, straws, toothpicks, elbow macaroni and stickers.  The towers were judged on height, and their ability to hold weight in a container on top.
The winning structure!

Then, Strider presented a report on Tim Tebow, and Andrew did a report on a Civil War battle:

Our "feature presentation" this morning was by Mr. Cole, who shared from his expertise working in the Emergency Department.  He brought all kinds of great show-and-tell items and he explained about medical tools and techniques.

 By the end of the time, pretty much every kid had had a chance to play nurse, doctor and/or patient, and they had been decked out in masks, gloves, gowns, braces and casts!

Then, after a quick stop at the library (for which Rayna wore her medical gloves):

...we returned home to see Cole and Milo, who had spent the morning with Amanda!

Strider brought them a souvenir from our co-op time:
After a quick lunch, we took a bike ride/walk to enjoy the sunshine (it got up to almost 60* today!), 
and then came home to read some books together:

Rayna's educational therapist came for awhile, and Strider went to work on a paper due tomorrow, freeing me up to work with Colsen a little bit.  He worked on some numbers, (and mostly, crayon-peeling):
Later, it was time to go back outside.  The little boys enjoyed some swinging, and then some friends/former neighbors (the Plues) came over for a fun visit!

Finally, because it was the 100th day for the TEACHER as well as the students, I felt I deserved a break from cooking tonight, so we did the free-kids-night-deal at Firehouse Subs.  We were all pretty happy about that!
 And, to top it all off, we had special, celebratory CAKE  (2 kinds left over from a meeting we had here last night)!
Definitely a nice 100th day.  Only 80 more to go for this year!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fun around the table

While I've been rambling indulgently about my dream jobs, current job, and job training, the family has still been carrying on with all the usual activity.  Lately, with the weather so cold, we've been finding more of our fun times associated with a table.  In the past week we've had several different groups of people over to eat and/or play games... very cozy. 

The games of choice have been Yahtzee (thanks for the idea Karin), Pick Up Sticks, and perennial favorite, Qwirkle.  I love that Rayna and Colsen are beginning to join in the fun of group games. I do not love that Milo thinks he should join in as well, with his entire body on the table repeatedly.

Yesterday, since it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we got together with the Dickmann's.  This has been our annual tradition for years now, since our friend Soup usually flies in for a visit then.  This year, he couldn't make the trip, so we didn't have Soup... we had brunch foods instead.  :)

It is always refreshing to see these wonderful friends!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Using my MBA in my MOM job

Recently I met a former business colleague to catch up while he was in town.  Since the time we worked together at Sara Lee, he's had quite a career, jetting around the world working for a couple of different exciting companies.  When it came time for me to talk what I've been doing in those years, I did not have much business-ese to offer.  This particular friend did not ask the question outrigtht, but I've heard some of my other friends mutter something like, "Why did you ever get an MBA if you're mostly just staying home with your kids??"

Not to worry, my muttering friends!  All is not wasted.  As any mom can attest, there are many business-like tasks we must perform in our profession.  I put my home-bound, deteriorating brain to work to come up with a list of some of them. 

Here are just a few of the areas in which we can apply business skills or knowledge:

Inventory control:  Just as for a business, our home has ideal stock levels for hundreds, if not thousands, of SKU's.  For some items (toilet paper for instance), under-stocking is far more dangerous than over-stocking. But for others (such as trampolines) over-stocking can prove to be cumbersome.  So, pretty much on a daily basis I have to do use a critical-fractile ratio analysis for calculating inventory risks/costs.

Supplier/vendor relationships:  We obtain our staple items from several stores right in our area.  There are 2 mass-merchandisers and 4 different grocery stores within a 5-mile radius of our home.  The challenge is to figure out which supplier offers the best deals on particular items, while also balancing in time-spent and gas-used as variables in the equations.  To make the formulas even more complicated, the use of coupons, especially on weeks when one of the stores is offering triple-coupon, or super-double-coupon specials, needs to be factored in.  The effectual prices are constantly in flux, making it necessary to keep a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet in one's head.  And, as even my son pointed out today, if you want to shop in a "friendlier" store, you have to be willing to pay the higher costs.  "You can't have it both ways," he said.  See -- I'm already passing on valuable business lessons to the next generation!

Crisis management: These skills are necessary on an almost-daily basis as well, it seems. A huge amount of paint just got spilled all over the floor, there is a toddler who wants to keep walking through the giant puddle, a preschooler who is crying inconsolably, and the phone is ringing: What do you do first?? This leads to important triage decisions, and the necessity to keep a calm head under stress.

Critical path analysis:  As any project manager would tell you (at least back in the 90's when I learned about this stuff... perhaps software has changed it all since then!), identifying the critical path in any plan is key.  So, if I want to get everyone out the door for Taekwondo by 11:40, I need to back up all the steps to do so, and figure out which things are going to take the longest, doing those first.  Any mom can tell you who takes the longest to put on shoes, who takes the longest in the bathroom, who will be most likely to pitch a fit and argue with the plan, etc.  Moms may use critical path analysis on an hourly basis.

Group dynamics:  I learned in a Human Resources course that groups go through several stages:  forming, norming, storming, and a bunch of other ones that rhyme with those which I can't remember.  By definition, moms live in groups 24-7.  Being aware of the fact that they will go through stages, even if they can't remember what those stages are called, can be extremely reassuring and sanity-saving.  I repeat "it's only a stage, it's only a stage" as a mantra sometimes.

Multi-tasking:  We all know business people must multi-task, and the requirements of an MBA program definitely prepare one for that.  Those acquired abilities have been more than helpful in motherhood, as all moms could verify.  At any one particular instant, I can have 3 voices asking simultaneously things like,
"How do you factor the difference of two squares again?
"What comes after "tug?"

"But why can't I have more gum?"
at the same time that my toddler is pulling on my leg crying and the timer on the stove is going off to remind me of something that I now can't remember.  Oh, and I'm answering an email, cleaning the office and writing a blog post.

Getting to the root of the problem:  As it turns out, my children were born with the very skill that made Sakichi Toyoda (of Toyota Motor Corporation) so successful:  asking "why" repeatedly.  So this business skill gets a LOT of use around here, and it's a good thing I was well-versed in its history.  I also have found it necessary to use the persistent-questioning method to get to the root of mysterious problems around here.  I found myself saying the following recently: 
"Why did you change your shirt?...  Well why was it wet?.... "What do you mean water got on it?.... Where did you find the cup?.....  Why were you in the kitchen?....."  And on and on it goes.

One of my undergraduate students asked me not too long ago, "Is getting an MBA worth it?"   As a person who is not exactly in a business role anymore, I can still conclude that yes, it is a valuable degree. Even as a mom, I have put a lot of my coursework to good use.

 Some mothers may have been born with these skills naturally, but as for me, I've needed all the training I could get!   Although nothing tops the on-the-job training that motherhood provides, free of charge.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thankful for my "job"

I had fun coming up with my "dream job" list... but when it comes down to it, the idea of having to wake up to an alarm clock again every day makes me shudder in horror.  (I do get woken up earlier and far more often that I want to currently, but at least there's always the bit of mystery attached to it ((who, when, why)) -- not the predictable blaring of an obnoxious machine!)

And honestly my current job at home is about as fulfilling as it can be.   A friend of mine forwarded this quote recently, and I think it is all too true:

In exchange
When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.  --Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Even though I did end up with a minivan, I am thankful for the absence of Lunchables, alarm clocks, and overbooked calendars.  And while on some days I feel like my kids' "zest for life" is a little too overwhelming, and the "measured pace of nurturing routines" is replaced with scrambling, nagging and constant re-doing, overall I am so very thankful for the creative task set before me.  Give me home-making any day!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dream Job(s)

I am very thankful to say that I currently work in my Dream Job.  There is truly no other job I'd rather have.   Buuuutttt.... if I started to fantasize that the grass could be greener on the other side of some fence, or at least just as green, I might be able to come up with a few other careers that look pretty interesting, too.  Yep, as a matter of fact, I have fantasized, and have even compiled my short list!

So, IF I couldn't do the job I'm currently doing, here are the Top 6 I'd love to pursue instead (in theory, of course):

1.  Run an orphanage.  This has always been my dream.

2.  Start a chapter of Catch A Fire locally.  I  heard the story about this organization on NPR recently, and it sounded like the perfect idea for me.  I love to be a matchmaker in any realm, and this organization apparently serves as a matchmaker between professionals with business-related skills who want to do volunteer work, and non-profit organizations who need skilled/professional work done.  I would love to facilitate that!

3.  Work at Wired Magazine, especially on their Table of Contents page. I LOVE those charts!  Finding all those connections and overlaps... very cool.

4.  Work for a home shopping network, helping to determine their pricing and promotional schedules.  HOW do they make those decisions to maximize their revenues???  There are different shows and different prices every day!  I love yield management calculations, and combining them with demographic data of the viewers at different times of day.... That sounds fascinating.

5.  Write essays that people would pay me for(I guess if I want to be a writer, I should change that to, "Write essays for which I would get paid.") How fun it would be write about stuff I am passionate about and then get those words published in magazines like "The Atlantic."  I recently read this article and wished I could write like that (although not about that subject!).

6. Be a bank robber. Since I cannot actually condone stealing, of course, I guess I'd like to work as one of those professionals that companies hire to see if they can break through their security systems. (So I wouldn't actually get to keep the money I stole. Kind of like Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Entrapment") I've always liked the idea of being part of a heist. It's all about the problem-solving skills!

Those are my top 6 -- at the moment anyway.  Someday, if and when I retire from my current gigs, maybe I'll pursue one or more of the above.  Look out world!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


To celebrate Epiphany today, the older 3 kids and I decided to take a trip back to the Discovery Place!  Apparently no one else had this idea, because we were about the ONLY people there.  We got private shows, a lot of attention from the staff there, and the ability to run around and do whatever we wanted.  :)  At one point Colsen announced, "This place is SO awesome.  I like it even better than hotels!"

We learned all about different aspects of science...




...And even an "alternative" science: ACUPUNCTURE:

(This is my best attempt at taking a picture of myself in the mirror positioned above, lying on a bed of nails.  It wasn't really about acupuncture.  :) )

So we had a few minor "epiphanies" of our own today, related to the field of science.

Then, because the party never stops here, we came home for some PRESENTS!
This is the day when the kids give gifts to each other (which they all loved), and we gave them one group gift....

.... which was a STOMP ROCKET.

To finish our celebration tonight, we are having lentil soup (the kids aren't thrilled, but hey-- it's kind of Middle Eastern, so authentic for celebrating the visitation of the Magi, right?).  And, because I'm a little dessert-ed-out, I decided to forego my usual Treasure Box Cake for this holiday.  Instead we're having banana muffins with whipped cream on top.  We'll still do the hidden baton in one of them, though, so someone will be a big winner when they find it!

Then we'll chalk the door, and finally, relax in front of the roaring fire that Pete has made for us in the fireplace.....  Ahhhhhh.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Words for 2011

"I want to blow out peace!"
"I want to blow out hope!"
"I want to blow out love!"
"Uh -uh- uh-uh -- HOT!"

These were the words we heard several times these past few weeks as we sat around our lighted Advent wreath after dinner.

(Explanation #1:  Hope, peace, joy and love are what each of our four candles stood for.)  (Explanation # 2:  The 4th speaker above was Milo, who was saying he wanted to blow out the "hot" joy candle.)

The words struck me as funny at first.... but then they suddenly seemed powerful.  Wouldn't those be wonderful goals for our speech this year -- to "blow out" peace, hope, love, and joy with the words that we speak?  And so, by the power of the Motherly Mandate (with the Fatherly Approval, of course), those ARE our new goals for 2011.

Pete and Strider heard a song by Jason Gray at the Behold the Lamb concert that talked about breath, and how we can worship God with our breath.  As I was thinking about how we could go about using our breath to blow out peace, love, joy and hope, I started thinking about how we would need the Spirit's power to do this -- as those things are the "fruit" of Him (Gal 5:22) and come from/through Him.

 And then I remembered something cool:  in both Hebrew and Greek, the words for "Spirit" used in the Bible are sometimes translated as "breath."  In the New Testament, the word is "pneuma" (where we get "pneumonia" from I'm guessing!), and most of the time it's translated as "Spirit."  But it's also the word in places like 2 Thessalonians 2:8, when Paul talks about the "breath of the Lord Jesus."  It's also related to a word translated as "blows" (John 3:8) or "blowing"  (John 6:18).

So we have started praying that this year we would depend on the Breath of God to give us breath that blows out peace, love, joy and hope to those around us.  When I think about how I usually speak/breathe, this seems awfully impossible...    But with the Great Breath of God, nothing is, of course! 

So may we breathe out as He does (and may no one get pneumonia!).

"As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the Lord.  My Spirit (Breath) who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendents from this time on and forever."  -- Isaiah 59:21

Monday, January 3, 2011

I love how they think

When Strider was playing with his cousins yesterday, they started playing a made-up game in which one person was the "lady" and the other kids were the "guys" who were wanna-be suitors of the "lady." The "guys" had to take turns proposing to the "lady," and then she would either say, "yes" or "NEXT!"  Here are a couple of the examples:

Ellie as "guy":  You should marry me because I am strong and can protect you and defend you because I went to the Naval Academy and now I'm in the military!
Strider as "lady":  Yeah, but now you're going to have to go to Afghanistan, and I don't want to have to be apart.
Ellie as "guy":  No, now I'm retired -- but I still have some good moves!
Strider as "lady":  NEXT!

Strider as "guy":  I am Uncle Sam.  Will you marry me?
Ellie as "lady":  But where is your flag?  You are so disorganized if you don't have your flag!  NEXT!


Romance was on Rayna's mind this morning, too, I guess.  She wanted to show me something:
"Look, Mom, they're kissing!"


But Colsen had other things on his mind this morning... This is some of what he had to say:

"Mom, you're going to have to really miss me because I am going to be gone for 540 days and I have to leave tomorrow because I have to go college because I am going to help them build aaallllll the college because the other college fired down.  So I'm going to help build it.  It fired down because I brought my dragon to the college and it didn't work out.  He breathed out of his mouth and fire came out and all the buildings burned.  But I was good, I rescued all the people because I took the dragon and caged him and put him in jail for a few days.  So if you see any dragons anywhere, call me because I can rope them and cage them for you."