Friday, December 29, 2006

Things Happening Around Here

Posting has been light (OK, absent) because my sister is here, and that means we have been very, very busy. She is not called Wondergirl for nothing. She just wanders about the house, doing the regular things, and then suddenly says, "If we moved this over there, we could put this back here, and then this would be over there. Would that be better?" And behold, it would be better, and she moves it all around and suddenly the house is neater and more efficient and prettier. All sorts of little projects that I've been wanting to get to are suddenly done.

Also we went shopping at the clearance sales at the outlet mall the day after Christmas, and then scouted out thrift stores the next day. Now I know where one is three minutes from DOB's work, and I finally found a brown suede purse that will work for me, as well as the cords I couldn't find at the clearance sales.

D2 is starting to repeat all sorts of words: "Cracker," "Jesus" (On Christmas morning, no less), "Walking." He wasn't too thrilled with all the running around, though, and in general has been rather cranky. Hopefully it's mostly teeth and will go away when these molars come through. We're making slow but steady progress on weaning~last night he made it through the whole night on just water and seems quite happy this morning.

I hesitate to rejoice too soon, but we may be seeing some progress on the potty-training front, too. Of course I read the books and they all said to use positive reinforcements to teach potty training, that wet pants alone were enough negative reinforcement, that punishment just led to power struggles, etc. Well, D1 liked the stickers and candy just fine. But when you're getting stickers and such all day, what's an occasional miss? So, on Christmas Eve, after she'd ruined the second kitchen chair in an hour, I decided I'd had enough and resorted to a more punitive form of reinforcement. She hasn't had a waking accident since, even with hours in the car and in strange places. Maybe she just needed that to be convinced that wet pants were no longer an acceptable lifestyle option.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

First Christmases are overrated. Second and Third Christmases are so much more fun.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas, Christmas

Various snippets of excitement from around here:Making the Swedish Tea Ring for Christmas breakfast (or, as D1 dubbed it, the tea ring ring.)
D1 enjoyed making thumbprint stationery to give as gifts.
D2 did not. He just wanted to hold the ink pad.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Time Has Come

Sometimes it's time. Sometimes you're not sure it's time, but you plow ahead anyway. That's where I am with D2 and a certain form of sustenance.

I'm very big on Avoiding Bottles, although this has as much to do with cheapness and laziness as anything else. But D2 has long since grown past any need for that sort of supplementation; he can sit at the table and hold his own glass and wield his own fork (even if he has to poke the food on with his other hand.) Nursing him has gotten to be a dreary chore, as he hates to sit still with his back to the world for that long and usually spends the entire time with arms and legs flailing. Yet he keeps asking for it.

So, I decided it was time to nudge him a little. He spent the day at Grandma's on Friday and survived fine as long as he didn't see me. (Probably didn't help, though, that I arrived *before* the potluck started.) Gingerbread covers a multitude of maternal neglect. Having meals ready a little early helps. And I haven't even begun to cut out nights yet.

But he's still not entirely pleased with me. Yesterday at lunch screamed with protest through most of the meal, even as he managed to eat it with relish. (When he settled down a little I let him sit on my lap and fed him myself. This seemed to console him somewhat.) The rest of the day, he didn't seem to mind.

What he really wants is Mama and Food. It's not that important to him that the two come combined any more, but it's hard to take time to give him a little extra of both while he gets used to the change.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Quiz

Which I took from Devona.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

I've never tried eggnog. Hot chocolate sounds good in theory but never quite lives up to its promise. I like milk.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?

EVERYTHING must be wrapped. If Santa won't wrap the gifts, then he can't come. I even wrap gifts for myself.

3. Colored or white lights on the tree and/or house?

White. Colored are (usually) tacky.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

We have a cardboard cutout of a foot with weaponish toes, but we don't actually hang it up.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

When I get the chance. I prefer right after Thanksgiving, but that hasn't happened lately.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Crabs in cocktail sauce on Christmas Eve. Not that we do that out here. But it was yummy when we did.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child.

Sitting alone in the dark in the living room with the Christmas tree lights on and soft music playing.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

No one really believed in Santa at our house. After awhile we stopped leaving out milk and cookies for him and started leaving out veggies and dip for the Grinch.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

I prefer not to. But sometimes it's hard to avoid.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

By hanging ornaments on it, of course.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?

I love it if I don't have to drive in it.

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, even backwards! No fancy spins, though.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

A certain telephone call from the Duke a few days after Christmas four years ago was pretty memorable, although not technically a present. Other than that, though, things tend to be more of a happy blur, and it hardly seems fair to pick out one present over the others.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?

(Humming) TRADITION! (Oh wait, wrong religion.)

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?

Cookies. Krumkaka are required to be the favorite cookie, but after that, perhaps peppermint spritz.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Anything that involves little kids.

17. What tops your tree?

Nothing, this year. The ribbon ran out before we got to the top and I haven't decided what kind of star I want on it. It looks just fine without anything.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

Both. Either one by itself is not nearly as much fun.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?

Secular, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Sacred, "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or yum?

Yum for the first three licks. After that, yuck.

And now I really must stop procrastinating and go clean the bathrooms.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Deck the Halls

If you need help decorating your tree, I know two people who would be delighted to help.

Thanks to Uncle Steve & Aunt Bettie for pictures.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Women, Children and Chores

I'm a terrible internet writer, because I like to think about things for awhile before I write them. So I find by the time that I'm ready to sit down and compose my thoughts, the world at large has moved on to other topics, it's too much trouble to dig up the original link, and my thoughts probably are no longer very connected to the original idea. It's all right though, I'm not entirely ready to abandon the advantages of thought.

Anyway, a week or two ago I read the blog of a mother who was upset that her children, whom she had hoped would just be willing to cheerfully help with whatever needed to be done, actually hated to work and complained about whatever she asked them to do; she was considering whether perhaps the idea of regular, defined chores had some merit, after all.

I don't think she's alone in her ideals; in fact, I suspect most mothers secretly think that's the way things ought to be; I know mine certainly did. And to give you a rare glimpse into a nearly-as-rare Source of Tension in the Duchy, I tend to think DOB should just see when I need help and come to my side, whereas he thinks I should come and ask him so he knows what to do.

Women have a good reason for thinking this way; it's the way they operate toward their home. They don't wait to be told what to do, they figure out what to do and then do it. And if they can't figure it out, they go read all the books and websites they can to tell them what to do; and if they still can't figure out what to do, they weep and despair and raid the freezer. One seldom finds children or even grown men feeling this way about their house; they may be neat or sloppy but they are generally not troubled with the constant sense that Things Could Be Better.

What women need to realize is this sense they have is a combination of many factors--long training, social pressures, the predominately female desire to nurture, a sense of ownership and control in the house--and that few, if any of those factors are present in children. They really wouldn't want them to be. A kingdom doesn't do well with two kings, and a house doesn't do well with two keepers. Mother wanting to do things this way and Daughter wanting to do things that way is the source of countless conflicts when they're grown up; you really don't want to push it along before they've learned some better people skills.

Since the children can't run the house, there are only a few options left. They could do nothing and live a life of idleness, which is good for no one. They could do regular chores, which we will address in a minute. Or they could simply "help out where needed," which often sounds to mothers like the best of the options.

But think about what it means from the other end. It means you have no advance warning of how long you'll have to work or what you'll have to do. It means you get none of the advantages of a habit, of doing something customary. It means you have no ownership over your time. In short, it means you are a slave. And no one likes being treated like a slave, not even a six-year-old.

Which leaves us with regular, defined chores. A child with regular chores is not a slave, he's an employee. It's not the highest place on the scale of work, but it's a place that's reachable for children. They can learn the skills and practices that will help them to actually see what is needed. They'll get accustomed to work so that they know it's not really such a terrible thing. And they'll still have some control over their own time.

There's still a lot of room left for teach a servant's heart, for helping them see needs, for being willing to pitch in during an emergency, for praising unsolicited assistance. But regular chores teach the basics that make those advanced concepts more achievable.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Physics of Superheroes

I haven't finished this book yet, but I'm enjoying it immensely and can't resist the urge to tell about it. It is by far the most enjoyable thing I've ever read on physics OR superheroes. Not that I've read much on either, but that just goes to prove its power. If you've ever wondered what we can deduce about the planet Krypton from Superman's powers, whether Spiderman really could swing from a web, or how many cheeseburgers the Flash would need to eat, this is the place to find out. You'll also get a history of Silver Age comics, fashion critiques, and the essential connection between Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity and your shopping list.

And while I'm at it, it turns out that:
I am Spider-Man

Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Various Festive Activities

Friday was our Annual Insane Cookie Bake. We are still not nearly so elaborate as the Original Insane Cookie Bake, but we managed a fair degree of insanity nonetheless. I would have taken a picture, but I was too busy trying to limit the sprinkle-shaking to within two feet of the table.

We made had three grownups, four children (all under four) and made five kinds of cookies: shortbread, glazed rum cookies, sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and candy canes.

Saturday we put up our tree, risking life and limb (or at least a ticket) in driving the wagon with expired tags; sure enough, the new tags were waiting in the mailbox when we got home. As is traditional, Uncle Steve and Aunt Bettie came to help us, and as is also becoming traditional, we stuck them with a large unrelated task while we had them handy. (Last year it was melting ice off the roof in preparation for the Roto Rooter man. This year we only had them watch the kids for a couple of hours. I'm not sure which was worse.)

So, now we have cookies; we have a tree. We are just about all set.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Advent Calendar

This is our advent calendar. Baby Jesus is under 25, of course, and Mary and Joseph on either side. I can't show what's under all the panels, because you're not allowed to turn them over early. But you get the idea.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Happy Anniversary, ACS Blog

The American Chesterton Society Blog celebrated its anniversary yesterday, and are playing a game in response:

1. When did you first read a Chesterton book, story, or poem, and which was it?
The first Chesterton story I read was "The Invisible Man," probably when I was about fourteen. It was in a high school literature book.

2. What was the most recent of GKC's writings you read?
Dear me, I'm not sure. I'm afraid it was a rereading, and so I can't remember which thing I reread most recently. I really need to get some new Chesterton books.

3. Which is your favorite book, poem - or quote?
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
"A Marriage Song"
"Now most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities."

Oh wait, that was an "or," not an "and" . . . oh well.

4. Which would you recommend to a beginner?
Anything with Father Brown.

5. What is the most unusual fact or quirky detail you know about G.K.Chesterton?
Well, it's not that obscure, but I've always liked the one where he telegraphed his wife from the railway station asking why he was there and where he was supposed to be. I can identify with that.

I didn't eat any meals off the floor yesterday, although the children probably did (we were baking cookies). But I will try to remember to ring the front doorbell when I come home today with our Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter Wonderland

Rose asked for a cheerier post about the joys of having two small children, and today looks like the day.

It snowed! (OK, that may not help you down south, but it will get me started.)

Having little kids means there's someone to dance around shrieking "No! No! No!" and meaning something good by it today. It means spending more time putting on and off jackets and mittens and boots than actually being in the snow, but having it all be worthwhile for the look of astonishment on their faces when they see what's happened to the world.

It's coming back inside to make snow pictures with cotton balls on blue paper, and amazingly enough, not getting glue everywhere. This was an idea from the toddler art book I checked out a few months ago, and it even worked for D2, which is quite an accomplishment.

Also, having small children means I get to revive all the preschool-oriented Christmas traditions that rather lapsed from my family after we all outgrew being preschoolers, but which still have a hallowed place in my memory. Chief among them is the flannel advent calendar where each new day turns over a new character from the Nativity. Even in years when I have been far away from this calendar, I have measured the month of December by it and none other. (It's time to panic when you hit the bottom row of wise men and camels on December 19.)

Another one is our Advent devotional box. When I was small, we had a large box to open December 1, and inside were 24 packages, each with some small item and a devotion to accompany them. For small children, I like this idea better even than Jesse Trees and other popular Advent activities--something tangible, a new box to open, is very exciting to them. I decided to design my own, though, because I didn't see anything out there for free that was quite what I wanted.

So I wrote up a sequence of very short Scripture readings and devotionals that would take us briefly through the key stories of the Old Testament that pave the way for Christ and also forshadow his coming (Creation, fall, flood, Abraham, etc.), then through the significant prophecies about Christ, and finally through the Christmas story itself. For each one I'm trying to come up with some appropriate symbol in a box for them to open. This has involved saving boxes all year, and I never did get them wrapped. Maybe next year.

For instance, Tuesday we read about God's promise to bless the world through Abraham, and the symbol was a tent (contrived during nap time out of sticks and fabric scraps) to represent how Abraham followed God through faith. Yesterday we did Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and talked about how Jesus would come as the substitute for us; they opened a small altar (made of rocks and salt dough).

Actually I got tired of trying to come up with more things and made a whole bunch of symbols out of salt dough yesterday. Now I should try to find some paint so they are more recognizeable.
It probably still is mostly over their head just yet, but they are enjoying it very much and will understand more next year. And next year, the packages will be all ready and I can actually think about their real Christmas presents.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Venture into Marketing

The Bethlehem Candle
Looking for a unique item to enhance your festivities, that will turn the focus back to the True Meaning of Christmas? Fill your home with the rich, unforgettable aroma of the first nativity with The Bethlehem Candle. This elegant, hand-crafted candle will waft your family back in time as they inhale its special blend of fragrances designed to recreate the odors of the manger.*

*Yes, it would smell like sheep dung. And hay dust. Lovely, no? I bet people would buy it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chutes & Ladders

That's what our version was called, but there's also "Snakes and Ladders," which amounts to the same thing: You roll the dice, move that many spaces, and if you land on a ladder you jump ahead; if you land on a snake (or chute) you slide backwards. First one to the end wins. It's a great game for small children.

It's also what parenting them feels like. You plod along for awhile, and then suddenly--whoom!--they figure something new out and are suddenly more grown up. But then--whoosh!--they suddenly slide backward into something you thought they'd outgrown. Overall the game is meant to result in progress, and you will eventually reach the 100 square, but the human mind being what it is, sometimes it seems like the chutes are dominating.

With D1, it's potty training that keeps sending us down the chutes. Every time we have a day where she's dry all day, and even takes herself when my back is turned, it's balanced out by a day where we go through every pair of pants in her drawer. Over the last year there has certainly been progress, yes, but honestly--a year? a YEAR? And we're still nowhere close to done as far as I can tell. Yet who knows when we might step on a ladder and shoot up to the top?

With D2, it's sleeping through the night. Every once in awhile he'll start going at least six or seven hours for a few nights and I think, "Ah, at last!" But then, whether from sickness or teething or just orneriness, he'll be waking up two or three times in the night again. Why he's so thirsty at night, I don't know. I'm not about to let him sleep with us, as this would not involve any actual sleep; he thinks our bed is The Place to Party. (Cosleeping with infants I can do. Cosleeping with toddlers mystifies me.) Letting him cry it out just makes him thirstier. So I just keep going up and down the same little round of chute and ladder, waiting for him to grow out of it and getting more perturbed with each round.

Really, the speed at which they learn is amazing. It's just that they have so much to learn before they can do even the most basic things.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy Things

DOB finagled us symphony tickets for my birthday, and his parents, after intially planning to go along with us, instead agreed to babysit when we couldn't get another babysitter. (Fortunately, being grandparents, they rather preferred the babysitting, so we could still have a good time without feeling guilty.) The seats were box seats, so we had a prime view of the percussion piece, which was a lot more fun to watch than to listen to.

We found the Bing Crosby CD! The loss of it was sorely dampening our Christmassy feelings. It was in the wrong box, and though I had looked through many of the wrong boxes, I hadn't found the wrong box it was in. But we looked again, and there it was.

We got some Christmas CDs from the library, but it seems that an essential feature to a good Christmas CD is having played it last year.

On that same note, I have discovered that I cannot listen to the Messiah without having an urge to clean house. This is no doubt because it was my custom throughout my adolescent years to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving deep-cleaning the living room and putting up Christmas decorations, and I would always put the Messiah on first.

After a week cooped up with small sniffly children, anything that makes me want to clean house is a Very Good Thing, indeed.

We went to a fabric store on Saturday. As far as I can remember, I hadn't been in one since I was shopping for wedding materials. I had forgotten how much fun they are. Unfortunately, DOB had forgotten his Standing and Waiting shoes, so he put his back out.

I have finally become a Potentate of the Rose.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Getting Well Food

I was born to be a skeptic. But it's hard to be naturally skeptical about everything; one must do *something* after all. So in medicine, I'm skeptical about the overuse of drugs and surgery in modern medicine; I don't care to use over-the-counter drugs; but then, I'm every bit as skeptical about the untested claims of herbs and the like. Yet I'm not quite willing to lay down and die just yet.

So I try to stick to things that, at the least, I'm sure won't hurt. Chief among these is food; eating is necessary, after all, and there's a fair body of foods that are reasonably healthy by almost any standard. But it must also taste good, because one must see to mental health as well as physical. So when we come down with ailments, I get out my soup pot and make

Chicken Soup

of course. With lots of onions and garlic and, of course, carrots. On the side, whole wheat bread with more garlic on it. In fact, I'll put extra garlic on lots of things and raw in proportion to the amount our illness prevents us from socializing anyway.

Then one should eat some fresh food with lots of vitamins in it, one of my favorites is

Spinach-Orange Salad

which must have a good dose of vitamins in a quite palatable form. Or a fruit salad with a yogurt dressing, because yogurt (with live cultures) is supposed to be helpful in keeping those friendly little microbes inside you happy, and even if it isn't, it makes a good dressing.

I also try to avoid sugar, which probably isn't all that health-inspiring, and milk if there's congestion (which there generally is). Instead something like


with extra cayenne pepper clears out the sinuses and provides yet another tasty way to consume more garlic.

Finally, some hot tea in the morning and before bed helps one feel a whole lot better whether it happens to be some super cold-fighting herb or not. And a little bit of dark chocolate is good for the soul and doesn't have too awful much sugar.

After all this, we were doing a lot better towards the end of this week, until I woke up this morning with . . . ewwww . . . pinkeye. I think it's just the cold taking a strange form and not some new bug. But I'm ready to be done with this mess, and I think it most unfair that it came on the day I had to get my driver's license picture taken.