Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random Fank Yous

I keep wanting to write a post about what the kids are up to, but it hasn't happened. Really, for the last week or so, what we've been up to is keeping stacks of tissues handy, humidifiers filled, hands washed obsessively and ibuprofen at the ready in a valiant effort to keep the cold germs at bay. Somehow, I think they are just the first we'll be battling all winter long, what with O. bringing fresh batches from preschool twice a week.
I also just watched Alton Brown very methodically flatten a chicken carcass, rip a couple of bones out, and then wrap its legs up through its skin in a procedure that was both disgusting and awe inspiring. Again I say, the Food Network: compelling background noise, all day long. But see, I sit down to write, and something like this comes on, and how do you focus??
I am loving the Thanksgiving coverage this week, though I don't think I'll be changing much of our traditional menu when I host the family dinner this year. There will be thirteen people here for the day. My mom came over today and helped me clean and get ready, and I think we have the seating figured out, and have all the china and serving dishes out and ready. J. thought it was a bit much to have post-it notes in all the serving dishes labeling what dish will go in each, but whatever.
Anyway, I thought it would be appropriate to take a moment and reflect on my own reasons for gratitude this season. O. had a chance to do that as "fun-work" last week. (Seems to me, if you're going to change the name of 'homework' maybe the 'work' would be the part of the word to change???)
He colored the turkey we were given, and then I was to write down the things he was thankful for. Of course, given his three year old attention span, this largely centered around the items in front of him on the table: the thanksgiving decorations we had just gotten out, his magnifying glass, and his crayons. I did a little prompting, and he agreed to add his sister to the list, came up with his Christmas train on his own, and then made a comment about his teachers. I added all of these to the turkey. Apparently, his comment about his teacher was not one of gratitude, because his report on the way home that day was: "But Mom, Mrs. J said my turkey said I am thankful for my teachers. And I am not. I did not say that. I said decorations, and my train, and my sister. Why did she say my turkey had that on it?" Great. Now the teacher thinks I'm a suck up. He really did mention the teachers.
Anyway, what would I put on my turkey? What am I thankful for? I think it goes without saying, that I'm most thankful for the health and happiness of my family, for my husband's job and our safe and sound home, and that I am able to stay at home with my children. I'm thankful that I married into a family that is only crazy in good and interesting ways, not scary ones. I'm thankful that my brother married an amazing woman this summer. I hope she thinks the family SHE married into is similarly crazy.
But again, those go without saying. I hope I spend a lot of my time showing my gratitude for all these big important things all year long. So here is a list of some totally frivolous things, that nevertheless make my life a little easier. For that I am thankful.

1. The DVR. Not only does this make it possible for me to avoid watching commercials, it also allows me to watch television with my husband. Since he travels so often, I can hoard shows I know he won't want to watch to view on my own, and save the ones that are on when he's not here for when he is.

2. Our grind and brew coffeemaker with the insulated carafe. It makes a delicious cup, and if there's any left after the morning routine, it stays hot well into the day. I would be utterly unthankful for this, given how difficult it is to clean, except J. takes care of it most nights.
3. NPR radio. Sometimes the only other adult voice I hear all day, and more often than not, it offers something delightfully random and intelligent for me to listen to. Often my only source of conversation topics outside of bodily functions or dinosaur traits.
4. The Kroger store on the corner less than a mile from my house. It is soon to celebrate its year anniversary in that location, and I would gladly worship the ghost of Barney Kroger or whoever chose to plow over that cornfield, for all the ways it makes my life easier. Now, if I could just get them to deliver, as I hear my cousin is able to get her grocery store to do, and might never leave the house again. Except, I do need to get out, so, I'm also grateful for:
5. The "Alligator Park" O's pet name for the park we frequent multiple times a week when the weather is decent. It has a great mix of equipment appropriate for both my children, and is in a pretty wooded setting without being scarily secluded. I wish it was a little closer to my house, but most days, I need to get out for the drive as much as anything.
6. Friday night dinner out. It's a standing plan that I don't cook on Fridays, and we rotate between a few family friendly restaurants in the area. Bonus, my children are relatively well behaved in restaurants. Now, if I could just start ordering a little bit healthier.
7. My latest chicken sautee recipe/strategy. I recently resuscitated this one from my bag of cooking tricks, after letting it lapse for I don't know what reason. It basically involves sauteeing chicken breasts in a little oil, then creating a sauce out of whatever liquid and other random items I have in my fridge. A little mustard, a little jelly, a little fruit, some herbs, lemon juice, wine, applesauce: you name it, if you think they'll go together, they go in the sauce. Reduce a little, and serve with rice or what have you. I've pulled quite a few good things out of nowhere with this method lately.
8. My kitchen desk. Yes, it is most days a spectacle of disorder and chaos, and it oftentimes makes me a little crazy. But it keeps my computer available multiple times a day, and all of the other things I need to keep this house running smoothly within arms reach. O's marble he insists on carrying around? Here, safely hidden out of reach of N. The estimate for the radon guy? Here. O's latest art to show whoever cares? Under that stuff, here. It's all there, somewhere, and I can usually find it if you give me a minute. Sadly, it all needs to go away for a day or so this week while I have company, and it will take me a while to rebuild geologic layers.
9. Entertainment Weekly magazine. My best shot at staying current on pop culture, or at least pretending I'm a little hip. The only reason to be excited about Saturday's mail.
10. Parmesan and Garlic Cheezits. I shouldn't be thankful for these, really. They are probably the prime culprit of the remaining baby weight, but boy, when that 9:30PM hunger comes around, boy do they hit the spot.

I'll stop there. How about you? What are the small things you're thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Open Letter to the Families of TLC

Okay, Gosselin family. I was going to give you up. You'd been crowding up my DVR, and remaining largely neglected. Ever since O. decided that he won't nap, I have to really prioritize which shows get watched. I feel a little guilty plopping him down in front of a show just so that I can watch some of my own in the middle of the day.
I've gotten a little tired of the departure from a show about what it's like to live day to day as a family with lost of kids and instead become an "adventure of the week" showcase. I would take all the resorts offering you vacations up on their offers, too, I would. But seeing all of you at an amusement park, posing for a photo shoot, in San Diego, or North Carolina, or hello, HAWAII does not help me get through a long afternoon and evening with two children under the age of four.
I used to be able to turn to you for a little "there, but for the grace of God" sanity. But now Jon's not working, and so there are two of you, plus the babysitters, plus the supervision of a film crew, and it feels a little too easy. I know. Eight kids, not easy no matter what.
But I've been finding myself getting critical of your parenting choices and attitudes. I can't stand to hear Kate say "boys are icky" one more time. Or watch Mady have a breakdown without wanting to call in a therapist. Since you are real people and not characters on a sitcom, that makes me feel uneasy. I understand that when you agree to have your life taped, you knowingly submit yourself to this kind of inspection, but I don't think I want to partake in it, because it's not healthy for anyone.
I still admire your ability to be real and upfront about the challenges of raising children, how you have admitted that it is hard and frustrating, and you let yourself yell at each other and sometimes the kids, even on camera. It would be easy to say that Kate is a bitch, and not acknowledge the way she visibly grows in so many ways right there for the country to see. For example, when she sucked it up and got in the water with those sea turtles, even though it was something she at first said she would not do. While it took a lot of courage to get in the water, I think it took even more to change her mind when she had said she wouldn't. In the end, the possibility of looking foolish while doing something that made her uncomfortable was something she was willing to do so that she could have an experience and expand her world view. In the process, she helped teach her children to do the same.
So, for that reason alone, I'm watching the renewal of the vows episode, even though it seemed like a stunt on the part of the producers, even though I was annoyed at how easily I fell for that manipulative "It's a Beautiful Day" commercial they've been pumping for the last two weeks with you holding hands and walking through the grass.
And now that I am, here is a scene with Joel, and he says "Jenny, you say I'm a big lump when I'm hiding" and she and some of the other kids play along, pretending not to see him under the covers, and he squeals with delight when they pull the covers back. This is O's very favorite game, played out right in front of me on television, exactly how he likes to play it "Mom, you say where's O., and what's this wump in my bed. But not yet, I have to be hiding first."
So, I watch because you are a real family, with kids like mine, except a lot more of them. So, although it makes me uncomfortable to participate at times, I am glad you share yourselves and your lives. Could you get back to more of these moments, though, please??

But Roloffs, we're through for sure. I don't know if it's your editors' fault, or if I've just lost interest, but there does not seem to be enough content for you to maintain a full series. As evidence, I present the episode where Matt did nothing but lie on a couch in Nashville, while Amy had to say the same voiceover "We're in Nashville to give a talk, and Matt is not feeling well" at least a dozen times. And looking at your messy house continues to just make me feel a little crazy.

Duggars, I am not even going to start you. I have nothing to say to you that will not make me feel like a horrible person, starting with the fact that Jinger is not even really a "J" name, and she comes awfully early in the birth order lineup to be resorting to weird spellings.

I think that's all for now.
Sincerely,
E...

PS: Dear producers of "Bringing Home Baby" Are you aware how awful it is that you prey on people that have NO idea what they are getting into when they invite you to share this experience with you? Can you please leave the struggling breastfeeding mommies alone so they don't have to try to hide their sore nipples from your cameras? And really, no one WANTS to hear the sound of a squalling newborn crying at three AM, even if they are watching television at 2PM.

PPS: Don't worry, my inappropriate involvement and interest in the lives of reality television stars does not end with your network. I've got plenty to say to those over at Bravo. It's still early in the season of Top Chef though, so the enthusiasm has not yet shifted to annoyance at the editors quite yet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Head and Shoulders, Cold Butts and Bees

Yesterday, I was reading a book with N. (Hallelujah! She may turn out to be a reader after all! I really really try not to obsess over the developmental milestones and the interests of my children. What they will be, they will be. But no books? I'm not sure I could stand it.) and there was a picture of hats. Unprompted, she patted the top of her head with her hand. So, yes, she's definitely starting to become more self-aware.
Last night, O. was putting his shoes on to go outside and help J. put air in my tires and shouted "Mom, where's my other Croc?" N. ran over to the shoe pile, picked up her own tiny pink one, and tried to hand it to him. When he refused it and found his own, she placed hers on the ground. She then tried to stick her foot inside it, in effect standing on one foot to do so. "Doo. Doo."
She is also currently fascinated with the parts of my face, so that one of the new additions to the bedtime ritual is to gaze into my eyes in what first seems to be adoration. Then she sticks her index finger up my nostril and laughs hysterically. She would do that for probably an hour, so I distract her by sticking her arm down my shirt. She discovers the shoulder of my t-shirt to suck on, and thus is content and ready to relax for bed.
Not to be left out on the body part stories, the other night at dinner, O. complained about his foot hurting. I told him to stop coming up with excuses not to eat, and try some of his dinner. "But, there are bees on it! They are stinging all over my foot!" He lifted it up, puzzled that he could not see said bees. While I explained that most people usually describe that feeling as "your foot being asleep," I had to admit I like his description a lot better.
After a week of summerlike weather, the temperature dropped over the weekend, so we had to bundle up to go outside to work on the leaves and other "getting the yard ready for winter" tasks. O. came in twice for extra clothes, first a hat and then some gloves. He was so excited about his gloves, calling them his "sticky gloves" like Diego's, and waving them around at his dad to show them off. Then we went to swing, and when I lifted him up in his he exclaimed "Mom! I need butt gloves! My swing is COLD. I will ask for them for Christmas!"

Friday, November 7, 2008

It Was One Year Ago Today...

Thanks to Mommytime over at Mommy's Martini for her own blogiversary post today that prompted me to go look at my own archives and realize that I've been in the blog business for ONE YEAR. So, I'll be shamelessly ripping off her post topic and doing a little retrospective on the year.
Good thing, because the alternative was a little post on how I almost had a throw down in Michael's today because not only did they not have any Thanksgiving craft projects, but they of course had ONE person working on the register, and a line of twelve people. And no one knows that there is a SYSTEM for when someone opens a new register -- next person in line, not rude person who just runs there first! Ooops. You got that post anyway. Sorry. (I got the chocolate advent calendar, so I guess it was worth it in the end.)
ANYWAY.
One year ago, I finally started up this small blog about my small world. I'd been reading Not to Brag religiously, so happy to be able to keep up with my old friend MEP's life in a way we couldn't on the phone or in person due to geography and children that start screaming as soon as they sense fiber optic lines in use. I felt bad for not returning the favor of sharing my own life aside from in her comment box. I'm so glad I've been able to maintain our friendship here as well as in real life.
I really can't believe that N. was only two months old when I started writing here. Has it really gone so quickly? And was she ever really so small? Also, was I crazy?? Where did I find the time? I do seem to remember a lot of posts written while nursing, something I was infinitely more adept at with her, baby #2, than I would have been with Mr. Sucky Nurser, and I do not mean that literally.
This blog continues to be a place for me to record the moments of my children's lives that I don't want to lose to the whirlwind and monotony of long days at home with them. They so quickly turn into weeks and then into months, and then amazingly: one year. I may not have written much in the baby books, but I do have this record that hopefully will remain for them to read when they are old enough not to be embarrassed by it.
I'm happy, though, that I've also been able to use this blog, at least occasionally, to write about the other things that matter to me, things like food and books and poetry, and yes, television. It helps me feel like I'm still something else besides a mom, even though that is certainly my most important role these days. I'm glad to be writing on a regular basis, even if it's not poetry, even if it's not every day. Maybe that master's degree in creative writing was worth what we're still paying off after all.
I'm hoping to get a little more technically savvy here, and make better use of the ways a blog can function more smoothly, and maybe expand my readership a little along the way. But I don't have any illusions that this blog will ever be anything more than something that is important to me and the couple of loyal readers I have. I've pledged it will not be something to add to the guilt list -- I'll write when it works for me to do so. Interestingly, that seems to often be when J. is traveling. So in some ways, it's how I deal with the solo parent days when I'm in need of more than children's voices.
There are lots of other things I could say about the last year, about how I never believed I'd get sucked into reading the blogosphere to the extent that I have. How Facebook is dangerously close to controlling my life. About how my devotion to my DVR seems to be flagging a bit, thanks to the loss of naptime. How my children are turning into the most amazing people I know right before my eyes. About how my husband continues to be the best friend I have in this life I never even thought to imagine when I entered adulthood. But there is time enough for all of that. Time enough on the afternoons when I try not to measure out my life in coffee spoons* and write here instead.
I may not be disturbing the universe*, but thank you to those of you that read what I have to say. I'm glad to get to put a little of this small world into words, and thus make a little sense of it. You are the ones that provide the audience for me to do so.

*You didn't think I could write this without some poetry, did you? Thank you, T.S. Eliot, for my favorite love song, that of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truth in Storytelling?

An update to yesterday's Cabela's post: today O. brought up our visit there, leading me to wonder if he is a secret reader of the blog.
"Mommy, all the animals at the animal place, were they real animals that were died?"
I told him that I thought that most of them were probably statues, but that yes, some of them were real animals that hunters took the meat from.
"So, they took their back legs and their butts?"
Huh?? I expressed a little confusion, and hoped not too much dismay.
"Or, maybe, they were just sticking their heads through the wall, and the rest of them is on the other side!"
Maybe. You're right. That could be, my boy. That would be silly, wouldn't it?
See? If you're not ready to deal with the circle of life questions, not the place to go.

And then, during bedtime books, O. insisted on reading the Thanksgiving books I had tried to stash for later in the month. The holiday books go fast at our branch, so I have to get them early, but tire of the "how many more days to X" conversations.
Anyway, one of the titles was a Richard Scarry first Thanksgiving treatment, featuring "Low Leaf" Worm (rather than our friend Lowly from Busy Town). I chose it thinking it would be a happy little cartoon version of Pilgrims and Native Americans, but NO. This is the "truth in history" version, covering I kid you not, the pox blankets, capturing of Native Americans for slavery, and rampant illness and deaths of the Europeans the first winter. It ends well, with Tisquantim (AKA Squanto) helping out the Pilgrims with the old fish fertilizer trick for the corn and the big feast at the end, but there had to be much skimming of text, something you have to be quite careful with while reading to O. He does not allow skipping of pages, even in the most tedious of books.
I'm all for making sure that history doesn't get whitewashed, and that we represent all the important players and groups in our remembering of historical events. BUT...I'm a little uncomfortable with a drawing of a very ill looking Huckle the Cat in a bleak winter scene, accompanied by a little mound of dirt that looks suspiciously like a grave when I'm reading to my THREE year old. Am I wrong that a grade schooler who might benefit from this narration of events is a little old for Richard Scarry?
Oh well. I'll just stick this book in J's office along with the one about hyenas we got last time (focused almost exclusively on the fact that these animals are scavengers, so there are TONS of dead and decaying animal carcass photos. I just love some bloody zebra bones at bedtime, how about you?) and hope O. doesn't ask for it again.
I'm guessing he won't, as the conversation after reading quickly turned to: "But Mommy, it's fall. When will we have Thanksgiving?"
I assured him that it would be in a couple of weeks, and that we would have a big dinner with lots of good foods. I began to name them: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, sweet potatoes...
He stuck his arm up in the air, interrupting me at that.
"But don't give ME any sweet potatoes. Because I don't like them."
Oh yes? What is it that you do like, O.?
"Oh, you know. All the fings in our freezer. Like frozen pancakes. Oh, and CANDY."
Should be a fun harvest food celebration with him around.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Animalia

It's naptime here, and I use that term loosely. While N. continues to be a champ daysleeper (nighttime, not so much, but I'll take what I can get), O. has decided that "big boys don't take naps" and isn't even willing to be talked into "quiet time" very often anymore. Today, I got him to stay in his room for a little while at least, by letting him take his animals to bed with him.
What this means is for the next week, until I have to change the bed again, we will be unearthing tiny plastic critters from the depths of his dinosaur sheets. My son is an animal nut. We have dozens of the little toy animals that are sold by the tube/sleeve/baggie in all kinds of categories littering our house. For a while, I tried to keep them all organized and separated: farm animals, jungle animals, "Avrica" animals, dinosaurs, bugs, frogs, etc. I had a little bin from Ikea for each group, and a bigger bin with dividers for the ones too tiny for N, so he could play with them up on a table away from her.
But the system has deteriorated, and lately, they all live jumbled together in a Dinotopia lunchbox. I know we've lost lots along the way, but for O, that just means we can buy more on the next trip to Target.
I don't mind much, because his animals are among the few toys that he actually entertains himself at length with , lining them up into families, inventing rescue missions, and conversing with his imaginary friend "Daynan" about them. He uses the windmill from his Geotrax railroad set as a slide/machine of sorts to send them through as well.
For Christmas, O. wants "two animal fings and Diego Saves the Dinosaurs" The animal things are any of the many in the educational toy catalog we got early in the deluge. I don't think he's picky about which ones, just that there are more to expand our menagerie. He also rabidly covets the Schleich figurines, spending long minutes organizing them and naming off all the ones he wants when we are in Target.
I don't think the animal obsession will end with my firstborn. While N. has a great fondness for babydolls and any thing she can find in my purse and drag around, it appears that she also has an emerging interest in things furred and feathered. I have read our Old MacDonald book to her probably fifteen times a day for the last week. I'm not complaining, as it is the first book she has actually sat still long enough to listen to in her life. While she has no real discernible words quite yet ("Doo" for both shoe and juice a possible exception), she will make appropriate noises for animals when she sees them, either in print or real life.
So, if you have small animal lovers at your house, I'd like to recommend a free outing/destination. If you have a Cabela's store near you, or en route to somewhere you are traveling, I would highly encourage a stop to check it out. We visited the one in Wheeling, West Virginia (you can look at a photo gallery here) on our recent trip to visit my grandmother, and it was a great alternative to our usual "run around the Wendy's parking lot" pit stop. Each store has an impressive display of animals a hunter may find in a variety of environments, from forest to desert to the arctic. There is an aquarium area filled with bass, catfish, pickerel and the like. There is also a large walkthrough area devoted to deer in lots of "natural" poses.
This is probably not the kind of place you want to go if you are uncomfortable with hunting, or with a discussion about the origin of meat and the whole "circle of life" that is predator vs. prey. There are plenty of animals with other animals in their mouths/claws. There are mounted heads on the walls. And of course in order to see these stuffed animals you have to also pass by the aisles of hunting and fishing gear.
Since our playgroup is regularly held in the home of a hunting family, with literal stuffed animals in all the corners -- bear, turkey, wild boar and several deer -- this is not a new experience for us. And, this store was every bit as impressive as a museum of natural history.
They also have a cafe and a shop that sells fudge, so it is sure to become a regular stop on our trips to visit my family. On our way home, our second stop at the "place with the amimals", we discovered a display we hadn't perused on our first visit. O, eyes big as saucers proclaimed loudly to my mother "Grandma!!! We haven't even seen this part yet! It's all the amimals of Avrica! They have the whole world here!"