Friday, December 25, 2009

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

Everyone here at the Small World wants to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas. It's been an activity packed season: sometimes frantic and exhausting, but also a time of great joy watching our children participate in the wonder and magic.

We feel so blessed by all that we have, and for the time that we get to spend together and with our family at this time of year. We wish for you joy, love, and wonder now and in the new year.

Thank you for reading and for helping us celebrate.

E..., J., O. & N.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas...

The celebrating has already begun!

We went to my parents' house yesterday for our Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa and my brother and sister-in-law. Aren't they cute?

Everyone was pleased with their presents. Pillow Pet for O. He fell for the commercial back in October, I think:

Princess dress-up set for N. She felt compelled to put one of the outfits right on.

And then, had to try EVERYTHING on after that.

Guess the trend was catching. Here's J. in his new hat.
Go Browns! (Hey, it's soon to be a new year, and a new season.)

And then there was eating and drinking, lots of delicious foods.

And then there was just relaxing.

And it was a good day.
And there are many more to come.
Merry. Merry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

One of the highlights of counting down until Christmas for O. this year has been the Playmobil advent calendar my parents bought him.

Each day has a little window to open, with a different toy inside to add to a woodland scene. Some days it is a tree or a piece of food for an animal, and other days it is a little forest friend.
Favorite discoveries have included the fox family, a couple of raccoons, and a buck, just like the one we had in our woods one morning this December.

Each morning, as soon as he opens his eyes and jumps out of bed (before he even hits the potty), O. heads right to this table in our upstairs hallway and looks to see if he can figure out which little window to open. The first ten days, he could do it on his own, but since then he's had to come find out from me what numbers to look for.

"Fifteen. One. Five. What do you think it will be today, Mom?"

After showing N. what he found (and reminding her she can't take the pieces downstairs), he arranges each piece just so in the scene. He consults the box it came in to decide where it should go, and then carefully sets it up.

He can't wait until after Christmas, when he'll have the whole scene to play with just as he wants. The anticipation each night has been powerful, but he's been very good about not opening more than one each day.

"When I wake up today, can I open another one on my thing?" he asks in bed each night.

This morning he said, "Only two more days left. I think Santa is in the last one! It's gonna be great!"

Speaking of countdowns, ever since I can remember, my father has been impatiently counting down the years until his retirement. While he is excellent at his job, and has had much success, he has weathered many changes through his years working for the same company.
If you asked him what he wanted for a gift on a particular occasion, he would say "retirement".
This Christmas, he's finally getting that gift he always wanted. Yesterday was his last day of work. On January 1st, he will be officially retired.

Congratulations, Dad. Your freedom and time to relax is much deserved. Here in the Small World, we look forward to spending even more time with you in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On the Ninth Day of Christmas...

...we decided to put together our gingerbread house!! The kids were very excited about this. Building, cooking, cookies and candy are all high on their lists of favorite things. They even asked to put on their aprons to be properly attired for the event.

Look at us all decked out and enthusiastic. And wow! Is that an actual photograph of me??? Thanks, J., for taking it. I notice you slipped off to your office pretty quickly afterwards, though. Did you pick up on the feeling of foreboding?

Because here's the thing. I told myself I was going to LEARN from last year's gingerbread escapade.

I reminded myself NOT buy the pre-assembled version of the kit. Because when we did that last year, it was broken, and we had to put it back together anyway. For some reason, that's the only part of the difficulty I remembered.

So, when I purchased this year's, I wasn't thinking "Don't buy the WILTON one. It's the one that requires you to be a cake decorating EXPERT, not a mom trying to entertain preschoolers." That's what I SHOULD have been thinking.

Instead, I was thinking. "Nine dollars? Cool. I have a Jo-Ann's coupon. That will work. It's not the pre-assembled one, so it won't be broken this time. And how on top of things am I, buying this in early November? I basically rock as a mom."

I bought the Wilton, unassembled one. The one that not only requires you to glue the house together with icing, also requires you to make that icing out of the powdered sugar bag they give you labeled "icing mix."

This year, I followed the directions as written, making my icing a toothpaste consistency, remembering that I didn't want a pool of thin icing all over my table. Well. Toothpaste doesn't exactly flow out of a decorating bag. Especially one your son has threaded through the included decorator's tip. Although he did widen the hole for the icing in the process.

Also, when you have to assemble it yourself, you're supposed to wait three hours or so for the icing to set before you can actually do the fun part of sticking the candy on.

Oh, the other parenting fail? All of that candy is candy that was "Made in a Facility that Processes Peanuts." Says so right on the outside of the box. Good one.

By the time I got to this point, the kids had long since lost interest and were busy hiding in their tent coloring with the non-washable markers.
I set it aside, and still had to hot glue it together because half the roof fell off an hour later.

Here's the beauty part, though. On that November trip to Jo-Ann's, I had also picked up this adorable little gingerbread house. It is not edible (therefore not allergen laden). It is made of foam. And wonder of wonders, they are the foam pieces with the sticky stuff on them, so we didn't even have to use glue to construct it! They actually worked together reasonably well to make this little guy.

We did eventually put the candy on the real house. And I let them go to town the next day eating the candy. I know, I know. I shouldn't have let Little Peanut eat the candy. But it would have been awfully cruel to tell her no way, you cannot eat that candy right in front of you, none of it had actual peanuts in it, and the epi-pen was on standby.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On the Eighth Day of Christmas...

I don't know about you,
but I think this guy looks more than a little creepy.

Also creepy? The fact that he supposedly pops in and out of your house at random, spying and such.

I mean, I'm not proud of some of the screaming that has occurred in the name of Christmas craft fun around here in the last week or so. Not sure I really want Santa in on all of that.

But, creepy or not, where is my freaking elf when I need him???

I offer you exhibit A in the case of "we need a little help staying on the nice side of the list around here."

No, that is not blood. That would be SILLY PUTTY.

Here's a closer look. (And yes, it was on his skin, too. Apparently he thought it would be a good idea to put it inside his shirt and squish away. Took some doing to get it off in the bath.)

So, with just a few days left until the big day, I'm asking you, dear readers: any suggestions?

Sure, if you have any on how to get silly putty off of a shirt, that would be great. However, to be honest, the shirt only cost three dollars. How much stain removal is it really worth? I may make him wear it as is.

More to the point, I do not have TIME for this sort of incident, or the rest of the Amped-Up-On-Christmas-Cookies-And-Anticipation naughty behavior. There are presents to be wrapped, cookies to be sprinkled, JOY to be made, for elf's sake!

"Santa is watching, and he is SO not happy" is starting to wear thin, and besides, I'm pretty sure my kids think Santa is way nicer than me and probably a little lax on the follow through. So, I ask you, what do I do? Bring out the big guns and name drop Blitzen??

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

I don't think I can let this Christmas countdown go by without discussing N's devotion to the main reason for the season. That is, the Baby Jesus. She is just enthralled by him, has been ever since she became attached to our paperback book version of Silent Night.

Of course, she's always had a thing for babies. Unless of course, it's me holding a real one. She adores baby dolls, and points out real babies everywhere we go. But Baby Jesus gets extra special attention. She has checked out all the creches in all the homes we've visited in December, commenting on the differences in sizes, and whether or not you are allowed to touch and play with these scenes. She was surprised and delighted to see that a friend had the same Little People set that we do at our house.

Ever since she saw the set in the sanctuary at O's school on the night of his Christmas program, we've had to make a detour past it after dropping O. off at school.

"See Baby Deezus, Mommy?" Seriously, how can you turn that request down?

When we went to Krohn Conservatory to visit the live nativity scene there, she could barely contain herself. "Oh boy, gosh!" she said. "N. wuv Baby Deezus. N. wuv Baby Deezus." She kept repeating it to herself even in the car on the way home.

Later, she told my mom all about it. "Mamma. Baby Deezus. Deezus Mommy. Deezus Daddy. And amimals there. Donkey, cow, and heep. Heep say Baaaaaaa! Dose heep LOUD. Dose heep hunny!"

Here she is giving Baby Deezus a hug. She also enjoys singing him Happy Birthday (or Happy Hurtday, as she calls it.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

...We got our first real snow of the season. Apologies for those of you getting hammered with the blizzard in the east, and for those of you in the north already sick of snow. Here in southwestern Ohio, we are as likely to get ice as anything else. So real, stick-together-make-snowballs-and-snowmen-snow is something to celebrate!

Here's the first snowman of the season! (Our only one last year came in March, I think!)

However, Frosty didn't last long. O. hauled off and knocked his head off about one minute after the above picture was taken.

J. told him Santa probably had just moved him onto the naughty list, so I guess he decided to go for broke and play king of the mountain.

Mr. Snowman got the last laugh, though.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

We were supposed to go to the zoo for the Festival of Lights. It's one of our favorite events, though the crowds can get a little crazy, so we try to avoid going on a weekend night. We were going to go last night, but J's flight didn't get in until nearly 7:00, and neither of us really felt like mobilizing for an outdoor expedition that late.

We drove around a few local neighborhoods searching for good lights instead. I think the kids enjoyed those lights just as much as they would have taking in the millions at the zoo, though they did of course miss the animals.

We rescheduled the zoo visit for today, but then N.'s runny nose turned into a full blown major cold, accompanied of course with a cough and her typical difficulty breathing. I knew she was feeling rotten, because when I got home from dropping O. off at school, she met me at the door asking for "fishy ting?" Her name for a breathing treatment -- her nebulizer has a fish-shaped face mask. J. had just given her one. Either it made her feel so much better she wanted more, or she felt it was already time for another.
Whichever the case, it was clear it was again no day to be traipsing around in the cold and crowds. It was more a day to "nuggle in" under a blankie, and to wear pajamas all day. As N. would say, to get "Tumfy Tozy." (translation: Comfy Cozy. I'm reluctant to claim this phrase as part of my vocabulary, but I'm not sure how else she picked it up.)

N. is kind of focused these days on the pursuit of all things soft. She wants to wear the stretchiest pants she can find, fleeciest tops and sweaters. Dresses that float are also desirable. I've mentioned before her "havrite" blanket is now the pink "hoft bankie". When she gets her way and is attired in something soft from head to toe, we are sure to hear an "Oh Boy!"
There's even a requisite recognition if more than one person in the family is wearing something soft and comfy. "Mommy! Hoft pants. Feel em. Both of us tumfy tozy."

Here is a recent get up that was deemed acceptable. Pink sweater, Princess nightgown, and velour pants.
Here are both the kids all cuddled up in their Christmas pajamas waiting for Daddy to come home. I should say that much of the delight in last night's light tour was that they were allowed to wear their pj's in the car, and take their blankets with them.

Seriously. Who can blame her for any of this? I'm so glad she's all 'tumfy tozy' in her bed, not coughing for the moment.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

A couple of little elves stopped by to share some holiday joy. Wish they were house elves, so they could clean up the joint.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas...

The Small children went to see Santa. Actually we've seen Santa around a lot of places this year. Is it me, or is Santa a lot more mobile these days than when I was a kid? I keep waiting to discuss "Santa's helpers" with O., but that conversation has yet to come up.

Last weekend, my parents volunteered to take the kids to the train display at Cincinnati Museum Center while J. and I went to the biggest rivalry game in the city: the basketball game between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, otherwise know as the Crosstown Shootout. We were pleased to see XU emerge with another win. However, it is official: we are old. When the second overtime looked imminent, we actually didn't care if the Bearcats took the win, we were just really hoping to go home and get some sleep.

Anyhow, while we were at the game, the kids and Grandma and Grandpa looked at the trains, and Santa happened to be visiting. N. told Grandma that she wanted to go "hug Santa." So, they waited in line, and my dad walked her up to him.

Santa made her feel so comfortable and welcomed that she had no problem sitting up with him and having a chat. I think she told him she wants him to bring her some candy and farm animals.

O., on the other hand, was not feeling quite so friendly. However, it was clear he was interested in talking to Santa, because he stood just beyond the velvet ropes taking in the whole interaction with his sister. When Santa recognized N's brother standing there, he got up and came over to talk.

My mom tells me they chatted for a good long while. O. kept his arm just like that the whole time, just as he does anytime he's particularly nervous.

The next morning, O. was very excited to tell met that Santa told him he thought he was going to be very excited about what he found under the tree on Christmas morning. Maybe even some dinosaurs!!

Does Santa know exactly the right things to say to kids, or what??
I should mention here that there was no photo booth set up anywhere near Santa's chair here, no teenager dressed as an elf, nothing available for purchase. Just Santa having a nice long chat with each child, making sure he knew exactly how he could make each one's Christmas as special as he could.

When O. wrote his letter to Santa, he started off by listing his top desires this year: a racetrack and the Triceratops Dinosaur mountain. He also added that he has always wanted a big truck that he can drive himself, and he wanted Santa to know that even though his Mom says Santa usually only brings toys that make kids get exercise and use their imagination. He also told Santa that his sister would probably like a baby and a pony, and he thinks Santa should bring her her own pink rock so that she doesn't keep trying to take his.

When I mentioned that perhaps he should ask Santa a few things about himself, since just asking for toys wasn't very polite, he added a question to Santa wondering how reindeer really do fly. For the next few days, he kept asking me when he would hear back from Santa.

Luckily, Santa does know exactly the right things to say to kids, because shortly after, O. received a great video message directly from Santa. It came from the Portable North Pole, and in it, Santa shared with O. the secret of how reindeer fly. (I won't divulge it. Santa asked us not to.) If the child in your life hasn't gotten such a message yet, you might want to head on over to this website to see if there's one waiting. I got one too, and apparently I've been naughty. But Santa says I still have some time.

Eight more days? Really???

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the Second Day of Christmas...

We went to see O's preschool Christmas concert. For a couple of weeks now, he's been telling me about practicing songs for this event. It's more information than I usually get out of him about his day. He has listed off just about every major carol. Turns out, his teacher devised a little medley of all the best lines of all the best songs.
He mentioned that they would sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and I told him that was one of my favorites. Now, every time it comes on the Christmas radio station, he cries out "Mom! It's your favorite! I'm singing it in my concert!"
On Monday, there were big developments in the practicing. One, they got to use their kazoos for real. Two, the risers were set up in the chapel. He actually used the word riser when he first told me about them, though later it changed to "standers." According to O. "I'm not with the tallest kids, but I'm not the smallest. So I'm on the middle step."
When J. and I asked him which side of the church he would be singing on, so we knew where to sit, pointed immediately left. Concerned he was giving us the directions based on his own vantage point, we asked him to tell us where his teacher would be standing. At that point, he drew out a very clear map with his fingers on the tablecloth. "I am here, and my teacher is here." Indeed, he was on the left.
Last year, he spent much of the performance looking for us in the crowd, so J. made a point of waving to him as he entered. There was really no need, because as soon as N. saw him in the front, she yelled out "Hi, O!"

Here he is responding. Yes, this is the boy that would NOT smile for a Christmas card photo.

And here's his angelic singing pose. If you want to see how much he's grown in a year, check out last year's post on this topic. Same pose, some of the same classmates, same angel boy of mine.

I just love a concert with kids singing. I tear up every time. When I was teaching, and the show choir would do their holiday performance, I always made sure I had pocketful of tissues. (And yes, Glee does it to me too!) When it's my kid up there, and they're singing about the baby Jesus, oh boy. The 3 year olds sang Happy Birthday, for goodness sakes. It might as well have been a half hour of Hallmark commercials playing up there.

I took some crappy video of the kazoo number, but I won't subject you to it here. Instead, here's a cute one of him playing it in the fellowship hall over cookies and orange drink.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On the First Day of Christmas...

I'm bringing back the "post a day until Christmas" tradition here at Small World, hopefully chronicling our advent activities. I'm not sure I have enough clever ideas and fun to fill up the days, and there's a good chance this year's events will be very similar to last year's. But that's what tradition is all about, right??

We started off the season by trying to get a photo of both children in festive garb appropriate to send out in a Christmas card. I gave up trying for a professional portrait two years ago after all three of us left the studio in tears. We were semi-successful last year at home in front of the fireplace, so we began the day with both kids sitting on a chair in front of the Christmas tree.

When that ended with both O. and N. in time out (after they started performing leaping face first dives onto and off the chair), we decided that we could probably get something decent on our trip to the live nativity and conservatory. They tend to behave decently in public.

We arrived at the conservatory, and O. remembered being there for the butterfly show in the spring. A little boy was crying as he exited the building, and O. said "Mom, I bet he touched one of those cactus in that one room."

Several other families apparently had the same idea, as there were clumps of velvet clad children standing in front of every cluster of poinsettias. There was even a group in matching polar bear pajamas ranging in age from 6 months up to 12 years. The echoes of "Look Here!" "Say Cheese!" "Do You Want Some Fruit Snacks??" rang out throughout the greenhouse. I gave up hoping for smiles, and wished they would both just look in the direction of the camera.

As we left the building, O. was the one in tears, because we declined to buy the coloring book he spotted in the gift shop. He didn't think it was too funny when I told him the kids coming in were going to think he touched a cactus.

When I plugged in my camera at the end of the day to download and start sorting through the shots, there were 77 images.

You would think with that many pictures to choose from, there would be at least one or two with card worthy shots right? You would be wrong.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Geeked for Science

Imagine my surprise this morning when I finished up listening to my podcast of This American Life and switched over to Science Friday, and I discovered that last week's show was all about They Might Be Giants' new album.

This is not the first time I've written about TMBG on this blog. I also shared my delight at discovering them in song on the dearly departed Pushing Daisies way back when.
TMBG is the band version for me of an long lost old friend. When they come up on random rotation on my ipod, I'm always nostalgically pleased, like coming across someone from your past you didn't realize you'd be so tickled to find on Facebook, but certainly are.

When I find myself rocking out in the kitchen to the likes of "Particle Man" or "Don't Let's Start" and J. happens to be in the room, he just rolls his eyes. Yet more proof that it is a good thing he and I did not meet until well past adolescence. Guess his car stereo was tuned to Rush and Van Halen in the high school parking lot, not TMBG and the Violent Femmes.

Anyhow, this new CD follows the trend the band has been pursuing lately of creating songs intended mostly for kids, but certainly enjoyable for all. They started with Here come the ABC's and Here Come the 123's, and this newest one is Here Comes Science.*

This is so exciting for me, the secret science nerd. I've always loved the science themed songs in their repertoire, including "Mammal," "Dinner Bell," and the one about the sun being a "mass of incandescent gas."

Turns out, the sun isn't truly made of gas, so they've rewritten that last one and turned it into "The Sun Is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma."

I told you. Geeked.

*One of the tracks is titled "I am a Paleontologist" so I think I can get by with making this a Christmas gift for O.!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Comfort Me with Food Writing

I just finished reading the book Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. This is not a new book; it was published I think in 2005, but somehow I missed it when it first came out. (Yet another victim of the the fourth trimester fog after my son's birth?) I'd been meaning to get to it, but for some reason it kept escaping my notice. Then I read the news that Gourmet magazine was being shut down and it got me thinking about Ruth Reichl again.

I had read both of her previous memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, and loved both of them. It's been long enough ago that I'm vague on the details of either of these books, and could benefit from revisiting them, but I know that Reichl excels at bringing memories of eating to life, and expresses a true passion for food and its place in our experience.
Her books are funny and touching, full of stories about the ridiculous (and often verging on poisonous) dishes her mother made when she was growing up, and Reichl's own adventures with vegetarianism in 1970's California.

Garlic and Sapphires focuses on Reichl's decade long experience as restaurant critic for the New York Times. This is such a high profile job that she realized that she could not have an honest experience at any restaurant if she dined as herself. Therefore, she developed elaborate disguises and alter egos in order to eat as the general public might.

The book is filled with delightful descriptions of meals in what are arguably the best restaurants in the world, and of course this made me happy.

However, what could have been solely a book of bragging about phenomenal dining experiences instead becomes what I think the best memoirs are, an honest and revealing self examination. Each of the characters that Reichl creates is in some ways a reflection of a different aspect of her personality. Along the way, she discovers parts of herself that she wishes could be present more often in her everyday life, as well as disagreeable traits she has let grow far too large. As a reader, I found myself wishing that I too, could escape under a wig for a time to see what it might show me about myself.

Reichl was well known during her stint at the Times for not giving renowned restaurants a pass simply for their reputation. She sought out "ethnic" cuisine before it was hip, and pointed out when service favored only elite patrons. It was very interesting to me to read about the restaurant scene in New York just as the "celebrity chef" phase was beginning.

From what I've read about Reichl as the editor of Gourmet magazine (sadly, I can't say I was a reader or subscriber, and thus, perhaps am complicit in its demise), she brought a similar approach to that icon of the industry, highlighting accessible yet quality cuisine, and encouraging the locavore movement. Reichl, from what I know of her from her writing, cares about food deeply and passionately, yet is no snob. It seems to me that this is exactly what I want in someone who influences trends in restaurants, cooking, and food in general. So, I sincerely wish Ms. Reichl best wishes and success in finding her next endeavor.

P.S. Oh, and speaking of food and celebrity chef culture, any bets on who's going home tonight on Top Chef? Forget the Edward/Jacob debate. I'm on Team Kevin. Anyone who says "I didn't get fat on accident. It was a personal choice" kind of rocks, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Food and Memory

Is it just me, or does this time of year really make you hungry for the foods of your childhood?

I think it's the smell of celery and onions sauteeing in butter that gets it started for me. Early every Thanksgiving, right around the same time the Macy's parade would come on, my grandma would be stirring up those vegetables, while my cousin and I finished tearing up bread and putting it in the lid of the roasting pan. Probably it wasn't actually butter she used, but sticks of margarine (or 'oleo',as she calls it) instead. Ever since then, that specific aroma takes me right back to all those happy holidays spent with my family.

Certainly, I'll be making some of the traditional cookies and candies I always make over the holidays, but lately my mind has been on the more everyday foods of my childhood.

My mom's spaghetti meat sauce, meatloaf (I always wanted the end pieces) and German potato salad. A ham steak served with baked potatoes. The grape juice my grandparents canned using the grapes from their own backyard arbor, and we mixed with lemonade. The noodles my grandfather rolled out on a tablecloth until you could see the strawberries printed on it. My aunt's homemade Chex Mix, always served out of a gigantic Tupperware container, always with about three times the spice and butter the recipe calls for.

For Thanksgiving this year, I bought what I thought were frozen dinner rolls, but was actually frozen dinner roll dough. Fortunately, I realized it in time to thaw the dough out and let it rise, and O. pronounced the end result "the best rolls in the world." I wonder if these will remain in his memory, like the loaf of bread my grandma made one rainy cold summer evening I was spending with my grandparents and cousins at their cottage remains in mine.

My mother used to use frozen bread dough to make caramel cinnamon rolls probably once a week or so when I was growing up. She made the caramel sauce right in the cake pan she would bake the rolls in, setting it right on top of the stove burner to melt the brown sugar and butter together. She timed the baking so that they would come out of the oven right as dinner was over, set pan over a plate and carry it to the table. Each of us would sit there reaching for roll after roll, usually slathered with some butter that melted right on the warm roll. My brother and I would rub the side of the roll not covered in caramel directly into the remains of the carmel sauce on the plate. We'd usually polish off the whole pan right there at the table, because they were never the same any later than that.

I'd been thinking about those rolls, too, so I just made my own pan of caramel rolls using the remaining bread dough from last week. I have my doubts they will taste as good as the ones in my memory. I can never get the caramel quite right -- it turns out grainy, not smooth and sticky. I have a feeling I don't use enough butter, but it could just be that nothing ever truly lives up to a food memory.

What about you? What are the foods you fondly recall, or try to recreate from memory?