Sunday, December 31, 2006

Stories of Two Best Friends

I am so in love with George and Martha. Droll and witty and touching, they're among my all-time favorite kids' books. Sean and Allie seem to be similarly entranced. For Christmas, then, I bought them a volume that contains all the George and Martha stories, 35 of them, to be exact.

In case you're interested, it takes about 40 minutes to read all the stories from beginning to end, give or take 200 or so interruptions along the lines of "Well, why did Martha not want George to read her diary?" and "Why did George say 'Have mercy!'?"

We've gone through the book once this morning and now Sean is eager to read all the stories again. Apparently I'm not as big a fan as I had thought -- I demurred. Instead I offered to read just "a few", as requested. I'm thrilled that they already have their favorites: "The one with the pea soup, Mommy!" and "The one with the scary movie!" Of course, Allie confounded me with her request: "The one where George goes to Martha's house!" When I explained that this description could apply to about half of the stories, she took the book from me and impatiently leafed through until she found the one she wanted: the one where George rollerskates to Martha's, falls and breaks his tooth, and in its place gets a gold one.

If you haven't experienced the George and Martha books for yourself, I highly recommend them. My personal favorite? The one one where George scares Martha and Martha serves her revenge cold.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Quick Holiday Rundown

'Twas a great Christmas. The kids loved all of their presents and were suitably enthusiastic about the whole Christmas deal. We spent Christmas Eve at my sister's house, where Sean somehow managed to drop his new Lightning McQueen car out my sister's bedroom window. Fortunately some mulch cushioned the fall. Christmas Day was pretty quiet; after the joyous sleeping in till 9:00, we opened presents and ate homemade French toast for breakfast. Well, some of us ate French toast; others of us (*cough*Sean*cough) took one bite and spit it out, proclaiming it "too wet". So much for this Christmas morning tradition that I had hoped to start.
Jeff took Sean and Allie to visit his grandparents, I baked some cookies, and then my mom came over for dinner -- lasagna, just like last year, since I didn't want to spend the entire day in the kitchen cooking a turkey dinner. As it turns out, of course, between the French toast and the cookies and the lasagna and the cleanup, where did I spent just about my entire day? Right, the kitchen. Still, it was quite a nice day.

My favorite gifts were seasons 1 and 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (from Jeff). The zenith of television, I tell you. I also received some very delectable books: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and Re-Readings by Anne Fadiman.

Having just returned from a visit to Jeff's parents in Pittsburgh, I'm looking forward to some quiet time at home before real life begins again. Tonight I just want to sit in front of our tree and start reading some of my new books. I'll be catching up with you all very soon.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Before I Head Out to the Mall One Last Time...

For the four or so people who wander over here in the next few days, I wanted to take a moment from my Procastinator's Panic (still! not! done! shopping!) to wish you all a happy holiday season and peaceful new year. I may or may not be able to post from our post-Christmas remote location; if not, I'll see you all as 2007 begins!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pumpkin the Cat, Pet Detective

Now here's something you don't usually encounter here on the outskirts of blogdom: a Mimilou cat story.

Actually, it's not my story but rather my mom's.

Pumpkin is your average housebound cat: a little on the sluggish side, a lot on the aloof side. Favorite activities include sitting in a cardboard box and sitting on the windowsill, gazing wistfully out the window at the wildlife that is passing her by.

One morning near her mailbox outside her condo, my mother noticed a sign for a lost cat. She hadn't seen any unfamiliar cats wandering around outside but made a mental note to keep an eye out.

A few days later, Pumpkin was perched in her sentry position near the rear window. It faces a woody strip that borders the condo property -- a prime spot for bird and squirrel watching. She began making some gutteral sounds, odd enough for this quiet cat that my mother walked over to the window to see what was prompting them. Her gaze fell on a gray cat in the woods that looked familiar. She went outside to check the poster for the missing cat, and, sure enough, the cat she spotted matched the description. She called the number on the poster and told a very relieved woman that she had found the cat.

Turns out the cat was being watched by the owner's friend and had slipped out the door. She had been missing for 10 days, until a cat with heretofore unknown detective skills came to her rescue.

I'd say that Pumpkin earned her keep that day.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Deck the Halls

Mostly because Alissa asked, here are some glimpses of what we've been up to lately. Everything looks much better in person; I appear to have not been born with the "takes good photos" gene.

This post was supposed to incorporate the photographs, but Blogger isn't letting me post photos. Most frustrating! So instead I give you links. Sorry about that.

Not that you can tell from the photo, but our tree is really quite pretty. Allie loved helping decorate the tree this year; Sean lost interest after discovering the Star Wars ornaments. Apparently it's a lot more fun to fly Boba Fett around the tree than to hang him from a hook on a branch.

The mantel, complete with stocking holders that will tip over if a butterfly so much as flaps its wings in the general vicinity. Allie pulled hers down 35 seconds after I put it up; fortunately the injury was a mild and not very visible one. There's a story about the lights on the garland that after getting over his fit of laughter Jeff told me I should blog about. But really, all you need to know is that unwittingly having two extension cords going at the same time might lead you to assume that the lights are broken, take them all off the garland, and replace them with new lights.

Painted popsicle stick tree ornaments. The craft not even I could mess up.

The Christmas trees that were originally going to be wreaths. Not bad for third-runners-up!

The preschool craft bonanza that Sean brought home today. The kids were really busy this year! The hanging scroll is my favorite; I almost cried when I saw those little handprints. It's something I know I'll be hanging proudly even when Sean is 22.

And, speaking of pride, last but not least, the world's saddest sugar cookies. This is the first time I've ever rolled out dough -- it didn't go well. However, the kids enjoyed cutting out the shapes and dumping 30 tablespoons of sugar on each one. And at least they tasted pretty good.

Monday, December 18, 2006

So Much for Championing the Little Guy

I had this great idea for a Christmas gift for my kids: unit blocks! Hours and hours of creative, nonblinking, nonhonking, nonbeeping fun! I may or may not have come up with this idea after realizing that a sadly disproportionate number of gifts slated for Santa delivery made way too much noise. It was a rather humbling realization for someone who had, pre-children, disdained such toys.

But that's a topic for another day.

Since this epiphany came about a little late in the gift-buying season, I scrambled to find some place to buy the blocks. Amazon had a good deal, but the blocks wouldn't arrive before Christmas unless I paid shipping expenses that equaled the cost of the blocks. I wasn't THAT desperate. Instead, I found the blocks at this odd thing called an independent toy store. Really! Imagine that!

I felt rather smug as I parked my car a few blocks away from the store and strolled race-walked down the fetchingly decorated streets of the Local Charming Town. Smug until I found the blocks in the store and fainted dead away when I saw that they were $30 more than the Amazon price. I had wanted to buy two sets, making this a $60 price difference. And those well-made solid-wood blocks? They were really heavy. Far too heavy for a fragile flower with flabby muscle tone to carry down several blocks of those fetchingly decorated streets to my car.

I left the store without the blocks. I will be ordering them from Amazon even though the cheap shipping option will bring them to my doorstep after Christmas.

I am such a sellout.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Random Cuteness

Allie is rarely alone. At any given time you will see her clutching an armful of stuffed animals, dolls, trains, books, or random detritus from around the house. This is especially true as she travels from first floor to second and vice-versa. Sometimes, though, she overestimates how much she can actually carry. The other day, I heard a plaintive cry at the bottom of the stairs:

"Mommy, I have too many stuffs!"


We are all about the Christmas music these days. We are fortunate unbelievably unlucky to have TWO all Christmas music, all the time, radio stations. Since our CD player in the car is broken, we rely on these stations for our holiday tune fix while driving around. Sean and Allie are still a bit puzzled as to just why they can't coax their favorite songs to come out of the radio upon demand. "But I want Little Drummer Boy!" said an exasperated Sean upon hearing that unfortunate remake of "Last Christmas" (who on earth felt a pressing need to muck about with that George Michael classic, I ask you?). Allie had a similar request:

"Mommy, I want that song."

"Which song, sweetie?"

"THAT one! From yesterday!"

"I don't think I know which one you mean. How did it go?"

"You know! The one by the Monkey Chips!"

"Ummm, no, I don't think I know that ... OH! You mean the Chipmunks?"

"Yeah! The Chipmunks! I want them to play that one."

And to think that, five days later, we still haven't heard it again.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

De-Evolution of a Christmas Craft

As I've mentioned, I keep my craft ambitions low. Christmas crafts are no exception. So far I've shepherded the kids through painted-and-glittered popsicle stick Christmas tree ornaments. Early next week I've slated an appointment for making applesauce/cinnamon dough ornaments.

Today's craft seemed simple enough, too: cardboard wreaths, painted and then festooned with foam Christmas-y cutouts and bits of ribbon. Not hard, right?

I began preparations:

1. Select a cardboard box from which to cut the wreaths. Check.

2. Trace the outer and inner circles for the wreaths. Check.

3. Use an ex-acto knife to cut out the shapes. Family Feud--like "wrong answer" buzzing noise: Ex-acto knife is not strong enough to cut through the cardboard.

4. Use a utility knife to cut out the shapes. Check -- no, wait, make that another buzz. Although the utility knife does in fact cut through the cardboard, it does so in a most ragged fashion.

5. Select thinner cardboard for wreath. A shirt box seems the appropriate thickness.

6. Trace shapes. Check. I am good at tracing shapes!

7. Use ex-acto knife on thinner cardboard. Buzz. Still too flimsy a tool, as evidenced by blade snapping off stem of knife.

8. Use utility knife on thinner cardboard. Check, but the resulting circles still look as if they were attacked with a chain saw.

9. Stomp into kitchen in a huff.

10. Rifle through construction paper. Slam two sheets of green construction paper on counter. Fetch scissors.

11. Fail, miserably, at cutting out even, concentric circles with scissors.

12. Stomp around some more.

13. Pick out last two sheets of green construction paper.

14. Draw freehand, lopsided Christmas trees.

15. Cut out trees with scissors.

16. Leave trees on counter, undecorated, because window of craft opportunity has slammed shut.

Since it seems I've scaled back this project to infantile proportions, I'm confident nothing will go wrong tomorrow, when the kids stick the foam shapes on their precolored trees.

Nancy, I so need you to come minister over our holiday crafts!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Defensive Much?

It's a good thing I am not often the direct recipient of criticism, no matter how light. I just can't seem to handle it well.

Sean has had a cold. Not a big one, just a runny nose and slight cough. On Monday, I sent him to school, since his symptoms were mild and his demeanor not otherwise affected. Little did I know that the mere act of arriving in his classroom would trigger a deluge of mucus that apparently lasted the entire morning.

When I picked him up, both his teacher and the assistant told me, with much dramatic reenactment, that Sean's nose had been running profusely and that he wouldn't use a tissue to wipe it all up. I kind of joked in response about teaching Sean good tissue habits. End of story, or so I thought.

Today at dropoff the teacher and the assistant both asked Sean if he was feeling better. When I explained that I thought he was okay and that his nose didn't seem to be running, I was treated to yet another lengthy description of The Mucus That Wouldn't Quit. Augmented by a casual "We like the kids to stay home when that happens so that the other kids don't get sick."

What did I hear instead? "You suck as a parent and you are so short-sighted that you didn't give a thought about the immune systems of the other children." As if I have nothing else important to occupy my brain, I spent the rest of the morning stewing over the criticism and wondering whether it was valid. I wouldn't have sent Sean to school on Monday if I thought that he would be spreading his rhinovirus about like Valentine's Day cards. His symptoms really weren't that bad when we had packed up to go to school that day. When directly, albeit cordially, confronted about this, however, I felt that protesting my innocence would have sounded defensive. So I just nodded and smiled and said "Of course, of course."

All of the teacher's concerns were perfectly reasonable, especially in the interest of ensuring good public health. Why, then, did I immediately feel my face flush as if I were a student being reprimanded by the principal? And why have I wasted so much time, and now blog space, dwelling on such a minor exchange? Is it my massive inferiority parenting complex? My wimpiness in general?

I guess I need to stiffen up, for I'm sure there are far bigger battles awaiting me as my children get older.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Every Now and Then You Need a Silly Quiz To Prop Up Your Floppy Ego

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

As seen at Yankee, Transferred.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Entitlement Prevention Measures

My kids are young. They are malleable. They can be shielded from the onslaught of consumerist messages simply by my careful vigilance.

For now, at least.

I'm more than a little worried about how to ward off The Gimmes in, say, 3 years or so, after they've experienced full-body immersion in the social movement known as Being around a Lot of Other Kids in School, Kids Who Have Not Necessarily Been as Isolated from Mass Media as I Would Have Liked.

(I mean, have you seen those scary Bratz dolls, for instance? They make me want to go right out and EMBRACE Barbie.)

I like to think that I am still keeping Sean and Allie inside our little No Commercials or Toy Catalog Bubble. Closer examination, however, would reveal that the bubble is not of industrial strength. Show them any commercial tie-in of their favorite videos (right now, it’s Cars), and they just about burst into applause. Going to the grocery store is more challenging now that we have to stop and gaze lovingly at each manifestation of Dora or Shrek on a package. Still, I feel like I am doing a reasonably good job at managing media consumption and toy purchasing.

Which brings me, most circuitously, to my point: my desire not to inundate the kids with gifts at Christmas and yet still make sure they have a fun Christmas morning. The last thing I want are children who take their good fortune for granted, who feel entitled to an endless supply of material goods and privilege. I don’t want a child who plows through a pile of gifts and then comments “Is that it?” I’ve tried to set sensible limits on how many toys we buy each of them for Christmas. I've been emphasizing the spirit of giving, of making presents for family members and of thinking of ways to be kind to others. I think they are young enough to be happy with a limited amount of stuff on Christmas morning, but will this approach work when they’re older?

How do you handle holiday gift-giving for your kids? If your kids are school-age, does peer pressure affect how your kids respond to the number of/type of gifts they receive? I just wonder how long the Bubble will hold...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

And Yet Nonetheless I Still Forgot Three Things on My List

One way to foster good will in the grocery store, apparently, is to have your two children fall asleep in your firetruck-shaped shopping cart. Yesterday, midway through our weekly begrudged shopping excursion, an exhausted Sean and Allie conked out, Sean leaning against his side of the truck and Allie nestled against his shoulder.

No fewer than 20 people commented on the impromptu nap -- "Oh, look, they are asleep," "Hey, how did you get so lucky?" "Did you know that your drivers are passed out?"

The kids are actually pretty good in the grocery store as a rule, but it was quite nice to be on the receiving end of kind looks because of my children instead of exasperated or disgusted glances.

Now, if I could figure out how to have someone wheel ME around the grocery store while I take a nap, we'll be all set.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

At Least It’s Hard To Cheat Yourself

Prompted by jo(e) and Landismom, I present you my twist on the "childhood games" meme.

As I've mentioned, my two sisters are several years older than me. In some ways, I was like an only child, at least in terms of not having a playmate to grow up with.

To avoid making you accompany me on the inevitable meandering self-pity path that this topic seems to direct me toward, I'll also just say, briefly, that I didn't have a ton of friends growing up. I had a few good friends in my neighborhood, but I spent a lot of time by myself.

Hence my weird habit of playing games by myself. And hence my list: Top Ten Games I Played as a Child (Alone). Jeff, shield your eyes.*

1. Stay Alive. Not only would I play this alone, but I would set the marbles in such a way that one "team" would inevitably win -- the trick to that game was to always set your marbles on the white parts of the grid, not the orange. So I would always set the opposing "team"'s marbles on the orange slots, ensuring that "my" team won. Ancillary game: roller derby with the marbles in the lid of the game box.

2. Boggle. Still one of my favorite games, and one that doesn’t seem quite so pathetic to play by oneself. My sister claims, although I have no memory of this, that she would come into the kitchen to see me sitting at the table, Boggle game in front of me and a pile of cheese curls next to the game. Well, I was a big cheese curl addict as a child.

3. Sorry. Let’s just ignore the obvious analogy between the game title and the manner in which I most often played it. This game was always a good time filler. I loved to slide my game peace along the squares of the board that allowed sliding.

4. Trouble.
Popomatic fun. ‘Nuff said.

5. Payday.
I don’t even remember how to play this game, but I recall spending a lot of time doing so.

6. Othello. Unlike with Stay Alive, I posed a serious challenge to myself by playing aggressively on both teams. There was something oddly satisfying about flipping over an entire column of disks from one color to the other. (The online version, I’ve found, is not nearly as fun, perhaps because the computer opponent is a much better player than I ever was a child.)

7. Connect Four. I can’t even rationalize a way in which playing this alone was not stupid.

8. Backgammon.
After teaching me how to play, my sister bought me a really cool leather-bound set with pieces that reminded me of chocolate and vanilla. I think I still have it, although I no longer remember how to play.

9. Battleship. Okay, there was no way I could really play an actual game by myself, but I remember having fun just placing the pegs on the grid and in the ships.

10. Solitaire. See? That’s not pathetic at all!

*Jeff, whose brother is only 18 months older than he is, can’t bear to hear me talk about this because he finds it so pitiful.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh, for Those Carefree Stroller Days

Will someone kindly remind me, the next time I think it's even remotely feasible, that going into a store that does not provide shopping carts is NOT A GOOD IDEA, especially in December? That no matter how readily the kids agree to the "stay close to me" arrangement beforehand, they are no more capable of doing so than composing a sonata? That their game of "house" (wherein each child claims residence underneath a rack of clothing) is cute for about 30 seconds, the amount of time it takes for the clothing to start falling off the racks in clumps? And, for the love of heaven, that taking them to a store that actually has a full-size, well-equipped tent set up next to the children's clothing section is nothing short of insanity? Could you do that for me?


Monday, December 04, 2006

Progress on Another Front

We may not be a fully potty-trained household, but I am pleased to announce that our home is now a BF (Binky-free) Zone.

Allie had been using her Binky just at night. Oh, and those random times throughout the day when she would sneak into her room for a Binky fix. I'd see her hunched over next to her bed, back to the door, and know exactly what she was doing. "Allie," I'd say, "it's not Binky time!" She'd snap to an upright position, drop the Binky, and giggle. Caught in the act.

Jeff and I had been plotting on how we could stage Operation Binky Removal but hadn't yet committed to what was sure to be a traumatic event.

When we were in Virginia for Thanksgiving, we stayed at a hotel. In a rush to leave one morning, I neglected to retrieve the Binky (the only remaining one in our possession) from the entangled sheets in which Allie had slept. Sure enough, when we returned that evening we found a freshly made bed with new sheets and no sign of Binky anywhere.

And that, as they say, was that -- the unceremonious demise of the Binky.

The first few nights were difficult; it took Allie at least an hour and a half to fall asleep, a time punctuated by repeated calls for Binky, for a drink, for books, for stuffed animals, for cover adjustment, for pretty much any flimsy excuse she could summon.

Last night she fell asleep right away. Free at last! If only I could work up the nerve to dispatch her Pullups so easily...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Second Time Is Not the Least Bit Charmed

I haven't really discussed, or perhaps only fleetingly, the utter disinterest with which Allie regards potty training. Throughout the months-long, circuitous path toward continence that we traveled with Sean when he was 3, I would think, "Well, with Allie it will be easier."

(Wow, do you hear the Fates laughing, too?)

No bribe, consumerist or gastronomic, entices her. If she agrees to do so at all, she will sit unproductively on the potty chair for a few seconds before popping up. "Nothing's coming out," she'll report.

I will admit to not forcing the issue. Depending on whether I want to pardon or scold myself, I chalk this up to sensitive parenting or to sheer laziness.

Perhaps I should reconsider the former assessment given Allie's comment to my sister today. Kathie always encourages Allie to use the potty when Allie is at her house. When she asked Allie to use the potty today, Allie replied, "No, I've lost my confidence."

I guess I need to add self-esteem boosting to my potty training curriculum.