Thursday, December 31, 2009

happy new year, South Georgia Islands!

Several years ago Pook's grandparents gave him a globe as a Christmas gift.  It had the unique feature of showing the time in any time zone as it spun around.  That New Year's Eve afternoon, he began to watch the globe to see who was already in the new year, ahead of us.  For a five or six year old, which he was at the time, I was impressed with his grasp of time zones.  "Happy New Year, Aunt J in the UAE!"  "Happy New Year, Great Britain!"

We had a family of friends over for dinner and for New Year's Eve, although we'd been impromptu and hadn't really decided what we'd do at bedtime for the kids.  Turns out, it took care of itself.

After dinner and much play upstairs, the four boys came rushing in and informed us it was Almost Time!  "Look!" they shouted, pointing at the globe, "It's almost New Year's!"  We looked where they were pointing and saw the South Georgia Islands and the clock showing 11:46pm.  They boys were frantic.  We needed party hats, noisemakers and bubbly drinks All Now!  And, as wise parents, we obliged.  CD pulled up a countdown of Times Square from YouTube and when we were all assembled, he clicked play and we began to count in the New Year.  We hugged, clinked glasses and blew our horns. "I didn't have a horn!" came a wail.  "Well, we can't do it again" replied his dad.  "Um, actually we can," CD pointed out.  And so we got the party horns better distributed and... we did it again.  The children were so excited to be part of the celebration that it was contagious.  It did feel like midnight.

They wandered back upstairs to play for a bit, but at (Eastern Time Zone) 9pm, they dragged themselves down and asked to go [home] to bed. In their heads it was well after midnight and none of them had ever been up that late before.  The party began to break up and our friends left.  We put Pook and Bug to bed and cleaned up the kitchen.  It was no where near midnight, but we felt like we'd had our celebration, so we went to bed ourselves by 10:30.  It was truly (and has now been repeated for three years) the perfect New Year's Eve!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

holiday wrap and miswrap

There is Legoing happening here.  I believe to lego is a verb in our house.  (To happy became a verb when Pook climbed into Bug's crib to happy the crying infant.  Successfully.)  There are many Lego kits from many relatives given to two very happy boys.  And one still to come.

My mom and I shopped together, so I knew what kit she'd gotten each.  At the same time I bought a mid-sized kit for my nephew and the small kit requested of Santa by Bug (confusing a 'b' and 'd' spelled as "asingroebshudl" -- spelled 'Assassin Droid Shuttle' by Lego).  I'd had trouble deciding what to get for Pook.  The mid-priced kit he'd just bought for himself would have been perfect.  As it was, I would have had to go up in price significantly to get something he wanted in Lego Castle or Lego Pirates.  If I did that I'd probably buy a Bionicle for Bug to balance it all.  Instead, I moved on to the Bionicles, chose one for Pook and we went home.

When I wrapped up the gifts, I made a pile that needed tags and did several at once.  I remember thinking repeatedly that the box for my nephew was for Pook, but I labeled it correctly-- and Christmas morning WB opened it and liked it.  The small kit Bug wanted, I labeled for Bug-- and he opened it and liked it.  Both boys opened a very large kit together from Sister MD.  Each opened their kit from Nana.  But I'm not sure what happened with the Bionicle kit from me. Later in the afternoon, when the chaos of eleven people opening gifts was long past, the boys were talking about their Lego I realized that Bug had two kits from me and CD while Pook had none.  It seems that Christmas morning Bug had opened it- quite happily.  I will never know if I mis-labeled or he mis-opened.  But I am being held to the promise that Pook can still get a Bionicle kit.

Similarly, my mom has informed me that one of the shirts and one of the pairs of earrings I was given were actually intended to be held for my birthday next month.  Maybe I won't wear them until then.  But I was given some wonderful things, including a heavy plaster bunny for the garden by Pook and a hand blown glass flower pendant by my niece BK.

The best part for me might have been Bug's face when anyone opened one of his gifts. He'd struggled with his gift to Pook.  He wanted to buy him baseball cards, but reached first for the tiny pack.  I pointed out that he could get 100 for only twice the price.  The problem was that if his brother had 100 new cards then he, Bug, would have many many fewer in his own collection.  In the end he splurged and put almost every penny, nickle and dime he had towards the gift for his brother.  He wrapped it in disguise and carefully marked the tag 'too Pook frum Bug'.  And when his brother opened it, he beamed.  That I will remember.  (And the card I have kept.)

And now, I have promised to help upstairs.  I must go Lego.

Monday, December 28, 2009

plus or minus 50

On our way home from the cold northish midwest today, I realized that it was twenty years ago when I decided I would live in the south forevermore.

I had driven up to Indianapolis, from Athens, GA where I was in grad school.  The weather had made driving the already awful trip worse than normal and the forecast only made it worse, as there were warnings to not go outdoors, even to the mailbox.  The wind chill was minus fifty.  I planted myself on the sofa with a warm mug and a book and was obedient to the weatherman.

Several days later, after the presents were opened, I headed in my car back south.  The next day I went downtown to buy my textbooks for the upcoming semester. There were crowds preventing me from entering, so I waited outdoors in line.  Across the street was a bank sign flashing the time and temperature.  It was fifty.

I knew at that moment that I would never live up north again.

Merry Christmas y'all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

be right with ya

"I ca-an't do all that.  It's too much wo-ork.  Will you help me?"

After I shower.
And finish washing and folding the four loads of laundry I need to do.
And packing your clothes into a suitcase.
And your brother's clothes.
And choosing my clothes and packing them into a suitcase.
And getting items to entertain you in the car.
And getting things for your brother to have in the car.
And getting things for me and Daddy for the car.
And getting snacks for all of us in the car.
And wrapping the last couple of Christmas gifts.
And packing the gifts to take with us.
And the stockings!
Sure, then I'll help you.  Wait for me right here."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

next year's misunderstanding

Me:  Bug, tomorrow is your last day of school!  Then, it will be 2010 when you go back.

Bug:   Really?!  Wow!  I get to be in First Grade!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

cookie planning

Last year, staying at home for the holidays, I had an ambitious baking schedule.  I baked a lot, but I don't remember making Faith's Grandma's cookies OR the Cookie Store Cat cookies.  And I don't think I'll get there this year either.  (Perhaps they will be a New Year's Resolution.)  The problem with my plan is that I make it.  I then make the mistake of asking everyone in the family what they want.  Pook: gingerbread house (check).   Bug:  Swedish Shortbread (check).  CD: Fruitcake Cookies- I've chopped and mixed all the dried fruit for them (partial check).  Obligation:  Pretzels for teachers and friends (check x 6 bags of Hershey's kisses, various flavors, Mint Truffle winning hands down).  And for me, we'll make Nutmeg Christmas Cutout cookies at my mom's on Dec. 23, (check?).  I'm just not insane (enough) to take on any others. 

I have a small kitchen.  (Have I whined about that before?)  I have kids. (Yeah, I know I've already whined about that.)  While I can make time to bake cookies (no whining) it gets hard to let the kids help.  I mixed up the shortbread dough while they were at school yesterday, and I mixed the dried fruits together today, but I'm trying to save the actual hands-on, lick-your-fingers, sample-a-few portions of the tasks for late afternoon after the boys get home from school and after homework is done.

Today I picked Bug up at 2:20 for a piano lesson.  We picked Pook up at 3:20 from Chess Club.  He had very little homework, but I wanted him to work without the distraction of cookie baking going on next to him.  I gave up at 4:00 and started slicing shortbread cookies (and his homework was quickly finished!).  Pook and Bug took turns sprinkling powdered sugar "snow" on them when they came out hot from the oven.  In my tiny oven (have I whined about that?) I can only bake one cookie sheet at a time, so we had four batches to bake, at 8-10 minutes a batch.  (And many discussions about how much dough and cookies they could eat.)  Suddenly, I realized that I needed to get dinner started if I wanted to have the potato leek soup I'd planned.  With powdered sugar flying right next to me, I started washing leeks.

CD and I ate a wonderful Valentine's Dinner once (Before Children) at a Moroccan restaurant.  Between sets of belly dancing, we nibbled foods with our fingers.  One of them was meat and veggies sprinkled with powdered sugar.  It was actually good, but I'm not interested in repeating the concept tonight.  Must keep leeks and powdered sugar separate!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I've heard that kids' brains restructure themselves at various stages of development, and that they show regression of cognitive development just as they're having a physical growth spurt.  If this isn't true, I'm not sure I want to be corrected.  Right now it is the only thing keeping me, and CD, sane and patient with our eight-and-a-half year old.

"Huh?"  I repeat the direction.  Pook stares at me blankly.  I repeat the direction slower.  I repeat it in different words.  I repeat it louder.  SERIOUSLY LOUDER.  I consider beating one of us on the head.

He was so independent last year.  I started the year by sitting with him while he did homework.  Soon, it was clear that he neither wanted me there nor needed me there.  Of course, his brother was upstairs having either a nap or quiet time listening to a cd, but still I was optimistic that when the kindergarten started assigning homework, that I'd be able to focus on only one child without any problems. I know-- I should assume nothing about children.  This year Pook is distracted and unfocused.  He can spend upwards of two hours on homework, and when I look to see what comprised this work, all I see are some simple worksheets to be completed.

I am trying a new idea. (Yes, I come up with New Shiny Ideas to Make Life Easier on a regular basis.  Every once in a while one works.  There is a paper chain earned link by link for Doing Nice Things to Your Brother languishing behind me right now.)   Nevertheless, the new idea this time is aiming to help him notice time usage.  He comes home with homework written by subject area in his agenda planner (which I am thankful the school has been teaching them to use).  At the bottom of each square, he will decide how much time to devote to the assignment.  For each assignment, a timer will be set to ring to remind him of his plan.  If he's dawdled, at least he'll realize what he didn't accomplish.  Meanwhile, I've sent Bug upstairs to have quiet time with a cd again.  He's happy listening to them and having him out of the room will help Pook concentrate.

btw, the New Idea of letting Bug sleep in sweats as his school clothes for Monday worked!  We had an ordinary, calm school morning for the first time on a Monday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

lay down your burdens... in my gut

Bug came home from his first day of kindergarten and had Made a New Friend.  How had he chosen this friend?  Well, they were running and Q was the fastest kid.  Of course.  From that I assumed this friendship would continue based on speed alone.

It became clear that Q is quite the leader.  Apparently Q assigns the children into teams and chooses the games they will play.  Bug has been frustrated that the kids always play Q's choice.  And then he began to mention that Q always picks W to be on his team, but not always him.  As I've been in and around his class at school, I've noticed that it is W who is inseparable from Q and that Bug has become the third wheel.

Twice recently he has said he doesn't want to go to school.  Last night I managed to get him to expand on that a bit.  He never named names, but They don't like him.  They make Everyone Else not want to be his friend.  And, They make him feel stupid. Within minutes of unburdening himself, he fell asleep.  I'm now the one dwelling on this.

I used to assume that Bug would be very popular in school.  He's very verbal and bright which keeps the teachers happy, funny as all get out which entertains the boys, and, well I hardly have to mention the eyes.  They'll come into play more as he reaches his teens, but I've already noticed little girls noticing him. All in all, he's been quite the charmer.  But I never factored in one other trait which I now see is part of the formula.  He's very sensitive and cares very much about What Other People Think.  This may be a deal breaker.  I don't think popular people have to be insensitive, but there must be a certain "I don't care what others think" quality or they'd be as full of self doubt as the rest of us.

If Pook cares about What Other People Think, he doesn't show it or talk about it.  He seems to float.  He'll play with whatever children are there playing.  There is a core group of boys who he likes, but I've never noticed any other alliances within it. He's never been upset about being left out or getting his feelings hurt.  He tells me less anyway, but he also seems to notice others less.  He is oblivious to the giggling groups of girls who already whisper about the boys.

But I no longer think I'll be spared all the friendship dramas in school by having had boys instead of girls. I hope I can help Bug navigate through it a bit.  I told him last night that other people can give him anger, but it is his choice if he wants to keep it around.  He can take their mean words and put them in a trash can and have them gone, if he wants.  I don't know if this will help him.  I'll see if he's willing to talk about it again today.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

manger scene?

This is under our Christmas tree:

Friday, December 11, 2009


It's the Christmas music that gets me ready for the holidays, (despite the fact that CD somehow embedded the Muppet's Movin' Right Along song into my head today).  I made my "big arse" Amazon order, we have our tree bought and decorated, stockings are hung and other decorations are out. But last night was a Christmas concert at our church-- a Moravian Love Feast. (No serious loving, only a sweet roll and mocha for the "feast".)  The choir, a quartet, soloist, bell choir and brass quintet all took their parts with and without the congregation's participation for an hour and a half of wonderful music. For the first time, we took the kids along.  They even got to hold their own candles at the end.

I knew it was starting at bedtime (7:30 for Bug) so we tried to plan ahead. (We'll see this evening how it worked.) Bug took a bath in the afternoon, which thrilled him because he could stay in as long as he wanted. Then I had him pick out the clothes he planned to wear to school Friday. He chose sweats-- and I had a light-bulb-moment: "Do you want to sleep in those tonight?" Oh, yeah! So, when we came home from the concert he was quickly helped into sweats and a t-shirt and tucked into bed with music still in his head.

This morning he got an extra ten minutes of sleep and bounced out all excited to be dressed already, before anyone else.  "Why doesn't he do this on Mondays?" asked Pook. ... Silence...  Wow.  What a great idea.  I've been trying to improve our Mondays all fall.  Some Mondays Bug has gotten out the door on time, some not, but all have been painful experiences for the whole family. We've been talking and experimenting with ways to help him with the process.  Sleeping in his clothes (I think I'd prefer that they always be sweats) may be the ticket.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

marching to the holidays

People keep asking me if I'm done with my Christmas shopping. Considering I seldom give it much thought until after Thanksgiving, I'm not doing too badly. However, I'm still organizing and the actual shopping has barely begun.

We don't give Stuff to very many people anymore. We've tried to switch over to consumable goods, with great success. There are magazine subscriptions, concert tickets, and drinkable/edible items all of which have been given before and proved to be appreciated. The year I was pregnant with Bug when Pook was a toddler, (have I ever mentioned that I was not good at being pregnant?) CD and I realized we had no need to go to a mall. The mall and all the other stores were at our fingertips. The serving piece to match SIL's china? Not a problem. Shipped directly to her? Not a problem. Getting up off the sofa, that was a problem solved. So, I think there'll be very little physical shopping taking place. Hopefully one big-arse Amazon order. Probably a bunch of affiliates with shipping charges.

I emailed CD (yes, my husband and I sometimes communicate best online when we aren't distracted and have a copy of the note to refer to later) with a short To Do list. He's made it clear to the kids that too much holiday madness too soon would cause his head to explode, but now it is time to deal with it. (The piano teacher gave Bug his holiday music in October. Quite common and necessary, but in risk of causing Daddy's head to explode.) He has already responded that it seems quite manageable.

I am debating, and this is a big decision for me, whether to send out a Christmas card this year. Time, money (dang those stamps add up!) and lack of a good family photo... all excuses really. But I'm trying to talk myself into this. I'll be sad if I do; I've always sent Christmas letters. In college I wrote each person a long letter. I'd fill the card and pull out stationery. I sometimes added a note at the bottom (Happy Groundhog Day or even Happy Easter) but eventually everyone got a letter.  This continued for years.  And then I had kids.  We struggled with the decision, but decided that a group letter was better than no letter.  A photo of the baby Pook was included and a two page long letter was composed.  It saved a little time.  The letter length has decreased, the number of children in the photo increased, but it still takes a lot of time.  Now that I'm writing here, a letter feels redundant.  So,we'll see.

But one thing I'm not cutting out this year is the gingerbread house.  I'll put the recipe below, but I'm not sure how best to share the pattern.  If you want it I may need to snail mail it to you.  The dough is easy to make and it tastes great.  I use store bought icing in a tube because it sets up so fast.  The pick-a-mix candies vary, and the items made in the "yard" vary depending on what candies we have.  (Tootsie rolls make good woodpiles.)  Here is our masterpiece:

1c. butter
1c. sugar
1/2c. molasses
2 eggs
1/4t nutmeg
1/2t salt
1/2t baking soda
1/2t cloves
2t ginger
2t cinnamon
5c. flour
Cream butter and sugar, add egg and molasses, mix in dry ingredients.  I chill it overnight but I'm not convinced it is necessary.  I roll it thin 1/8"? onto parchment paper, cut the shapes and remove the excess so I don't have to lift the house pieces.  It makes one house plus 24 large gingerbread cookies.  I lowered the oven temp to 300 this year and baked them about 10  minutes.  Keep a close eye on them b/c you don't want them to get dark but if the pieces are still soft they'll be more fragile. We use two tubes of white frosting to assemble and decorate.

The recipe (in text) and patterns (PDF) are at thanks Alpha!

Monday, December 7, 2009


I'm saving so much money these days I'm not sure what to do with it all! (Well, I don't actually have problems like that, but it sounds good.)

It started in mid November with a trip to the Lego store for two kids with begging piggy banks.  I couldn't convince them to wait until after Christmas, and since it was their own money, I drove them to the outlet.  Remembering that the Stride Rite outlet is next to it, I decided that Bug deserved new shoes.  The ones we'd bought for back to school had stretched out so that he kept kicking them off accidentally. When his teacher mentioned it to me I decided to replace them instead of just telling him to grow.  Amazingly I located the receipt and took it along, with little hope that an August purchase would help in November.  It not only helped, but since he was in the same size still, they gave me a refund for the whole price of the original shoes.  Whoo hoo! (#1)

During the same trip, I stopped in the Carter's outlet and Bug chose two more pairs of school pants.  He tried on four and chose two, which I handed to the cashier.  Upon returning home, we realized she'd given us the wrong two pairs.  Several days later, and after much pleading to wear them anyway, I took the receipt to the local (and much closer) Carter's store to see if they'd accept them.  They did, but had only one of the correct pairs available in his size, so I kept the second.  I spent three more weeks trying to get the kid to wear what seemed to me to be a perfectly normal pair of pants- with no luck.  Then, while my mom was in town this weekend, she and I made a holiday trek to the same mall, again to the Lego store.  This time I returned the second pair of pants while I was there.  Not finding the same khakis he'd liked, I located a pair of cords in his size.  Unfortunately, they said $26 which is significantly more than I'm willing to pay for pants for a child who is growing so fast.  There were discount signs all over the store, so I took them to the register to check on the price.  Upon showing her the receipt, her only comment was, "What would you like me to do with the $8 refund?".  Whoo hoo! (#2)
We received a reminder from GE last week that our one year warranty on our new fridge was about to run out and it was suggested that we buy the extended warranty.  No thanks. But, the broken seals on both of the produce drawers, and the chipped edge of one drawer, those I might like to replace.  And, sure enough, with a quick phone call, the replacement parts were on their way.  I'm skeptical that the seals/gaskets will last any longer this time, but free is good.   Whoo hoo! (#3)

On a roll at this point, and convinced that I should keep receipts in a more organized fashion than in a shoe box, I decided to see if Lowe's would take back the dead camellia I'd purchased last spring.  I'd noticed its pathetic sticks while raking leaves and had looked at the tag still on it.  "Guaranteed one year".  Good words.  I located yet another receipt and dug the poor stick out of the ground.  A trip to Lowe's later, no money spent, I have a beautiful, huge, blooming and in bud "Yuletide Camellia".  Whoo hoo! (#4)

Passing some of my good luck onto CD, when a letter came from VW about a recall on my car, he decided to call them.  We'd had a repair of a similar nature while in TN last year.  He and the dealership did some sleuthing and sure enough, the repair was covered by the recall.  Whoo hoo! (#5)

I'm looking around my house now for things to return.  What else will give me money back?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sorting woes

I tried putting an orange dot on the tag of clothes that Pook handed down to Bug.  When I recognize the clothes in the laundry as familiar and associated with Pook, I'd see the orange and know they've changed home drawers. Perfect system!  So organized!  So clever!  Except sometimes there's no tag and the orange sharpie would show through the fabric.  Then I need to look at the tags.  Bug, age five, wears a size six in most clothes.  Pook, age eight, wears an eight.  Simple enough.  Except Bug also wears a small and that tiny little s and the tiny little 8 look a whole lot alike unless I go get my glasses.  While Pook usually wears a medium, sometimes Bug does too, some of which are identical other than one being clean and in a dresser and one dirty.  Am I supposed to remember who has worn what recently?  Ha!  And then Lands' End has made it even worse, as Bug now wears a Little Boy large and Pook wears a Big Boy small.  Other brands are less consistent about sizes, so sometimes a size (by the time we've received it as a hand-me-down) isn't accurate anyway.  I'm sure both boys have size sevens around here.  Looking around the hamper of clean laundry, belonging to I-don't-know-who, I find sizes marked L (6x-7), some M (7-8) and S (6-7).  I can no longer sort laundry.  I surrender.