Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Little Whiter, a Little Brighter.

This holiday season seems more Christmas-y compared to last year. This is partly weather related. There were a couple of decent snowfalls (and snow days) over a week ago, yet the ground has remained white thanks to lower-than average temperatures. I am enjoying this mini-freeze -- it feels a bit more like home. Humidity and heat will always befuddle me, but -8 C is a situation I can deal with. While the cold brings a cozy ambiance, the snow covered ground brings a lightness. Last year's winter was a snowless grey; cloudy and boring. This year we have the nighttime luster of midday, the reflected sunlight resembling diamonds, and happy children enjoying the outdoors: sledding, castle building, and throwing chunks of ice at each other.

We know more people this year, which also lightens the mood. It's amazing how a little adult conversation can steady the brain. We've had some fun play dates, which noticeably improves the kids' attitudes. And why not? We are stuck inside a fair amount (snow or no snow), and a change of scenery and people is helpful for everyone. In that vein, our visit to Jon's family in Virginia over Thanksgiving was well timed. Refreshing, and restful, and I didn't burn the turkey. I barely saw my kids, as enamored as they were with cousins and cats and outdoor swings. I will forever remember Isaac trailing his oldest cousin, like Peter Pan's shadow.

I'm baking a bit more this season. I made the best gingerbread cookies ever using this insightful recipe (minus the almond flour, which is wicked expensive), as well as popcorn balls. I love popcorn balls, and to be done properly they really require Roger's Golden Syrup. Strangely, I am the only person in this house who enjoys popcorn balls. This is (a) objectively wrong, and/or (b) evidence of a popcorn-ball specific gene, without which one cannot enjoy this amazing culinary treat. There's just no other explanation.
This weekend we will also make our annual candy cane cookies, which are a molded shortbread type cookie with a delicate peppermint flavor. I'm always surprised that the kids like these, since they hate peppermint in every other context ("TOO SPICY!!!!!") Maybe the fun we have rolling them out carries over.

We've also been enjoying the Mystery Box Game, which is fast becoming a tradition. Once again both Grandma and me did the bulk of our Christmas shopping online. And once again (because we do not learn from our mistakes) we both addressed all boxes to me. So right now I have about 15 boxes in my basement with more on the way. The presents inside the boxes are unwrapped, and the boxes are almost uniformly from Amazon. I think last year I just wrapped them all without opening. Christmas morning we took turns guessing whose was whose. As it was, so shall it be.
I enjoy shopping online, although I'm not sure it is temporally efficient. I probably spend too much time figuring out how to minimize shipping. And then there are the hidden costs. One morning I awoke early with one simple goal: to buy my mom a particular candle. Over an hour later, not only had I failed to purchase the candle, but I had spent almost $100 on wine. For myself.

The last big item on my seasonal to-do list is plan Christmas dinner. We were planning on goose, but today I discovered that I can't buy a fresh one for less than $100, or a frozen one for less than $60. And it would be small. Not Bob Cratchett small, but certainly petite. So, I am without a plan and it's only a week to Christmas!

Finally, a word on Christmas cards. I did not send them out this year, and I feel a little guilty. I know that many no longer keep this wonderful tradition, and I don't want to contribute to it's demise. But something had to give, and I've been thinking that an every-other year policy seems feasible for us at this point. We seem to change locales on the even years, after all. And anyway, this particular year I may need the extra cash to buy a goose. Or a gander. Maybe a gander would be cheaper. Or am I missing something here?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Seven Years of Anna

After too many false alarms last year, I guess the school district is taking it slowly when it comes to deciding whether to call a snow day. It's quite early in the morning and I still haven't heard, despite the threat of another five inches of snow. Seven inches accumulated on Sunday, so the kids rightly had a day off yesterday. We went sledding, built snowmen, had snowball fights, and climbed the mini hills that pop up after shoveling the walk and driveway. Now I am sore all over, and wondering if I should ask Anna to stop praying for more white stuff.

I did not mean to be awake this early, but I'll try to take advantage of the time by pondering my best girl - a snapshot of who she is now. This is a difficult thing to do. Much like verbally expressing the many layers in a sip of fine wine, it is hard to sum up a person with words. But I'll do my best.

First, the facts. The Favorite Facts.
Hobbies: (1) Arts and Crafts. Rainbow Loom bracelets are a big deal now, although she loves all things crafty. She'll attack any project with zeal - both kits and her own ideas. She decorated her Barbie house for the holiday season, and it looks quite festive. However, she does not necessarily approach these things with the most care. She speeds through, or simply isn't that careful. I'm not sure whether this is the product of her age and attention span, or if she has inherited her mother's lack of fine motor skills. Time will tell. For now I continue to cherish her imagination and enthusiasm.

(2) Cooking. Anna loves to get in the kitchen and do it all. Chopping, mixing, stirring, making her own "stew," or baking without a recipe. I need to allow this more, because I can see that the window of opportunity is closing. My issue is that by the time she gets home from school, I just want her to play with Isaac so I can get dinner on the table. I need to be better about including both kids in the process. And anyway, she makes a mean stew.

(3) Minecraft. The cousins are into Minecraft, so obviously we had to try it. As virtual worlds go it's pretty amazing - in a cubist sort of way. Anna sticks with creative mode (i.e., all materials are available for building at all times) and spends her time manufacturing houses of various ilks. Isaac mostly blows stuff up and digs holes to underground lava. I'd rather she play this than watch TV, but we do need to monitor her usage (i.e., weekends only). I bought the kids some Minecraft magnets for when they need to scratch that itch, but the weaning process is still painful.

(4) Pretend Play. Forts, picnics, babies, house, princess, school, etc. etc. Universes constantly created and destroyed. But rarely dress-up, anymore. At least, not much beyond blankets. Although it's amazing what one can do with a blanket.

Media: (1) Lemony Snickett's a Series of Unfortunate Events. This year, preferences tilted slightly in favor of chapter books rather than picture books. Her latest fav is Lemony Snickett. We've been reading these books out loud, and I rather hate them. A phrase which here means, "I hate these books." Specifically, I dislike how adults are portrayed - dangerous, willfully negligent, or simply idiotic. Jon is more forgiving, noting that kids want to explore darker elements while in the safe confines of their own lives. Well, fine. The vocabulary is at least done well, so we plug on. We've read books 1, 2, 6, and 7. Spoiler alert: things do not end well.

(2) Phineas and Ferb. Favorite shows are changing all the time, but this is tops right now. Pro: both kids like it. Con: it's not a learning show. But since it keeps them occupied for 22 minutes, I can't complain. After all, the T.V. really is just a babysitter. If it has some other function, I am not privy to it.

(3) Movies in theaters. I love that Anna still pronounces it thee-A-ter. This year they've seen Monster's University (Isaac's first theater experience), the sequels to Despicable Me and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and if the roads are okay this afternoon [since it looks like schools are closed, after all] we'll see Frozen. She loves the experience, so whatever is in theaters is her favorite.

The Not-Favorite Facts.
(1) Organized physical activity. Anna tends to be active and squirmy and jumpy, but she doesn't want these things to be structured. She'd rather run with a pack of kids than take a dance or gymnastics class. Alas, kid packs are not easy to come by, we don't have a yard, the weather is usually wet and dreary, and the schools do a poor job at recess/gym. That is, we need to figure out something. Anna's natural inclination for activity is waning noticeably, and I'm concerned. One of my jobs this month is to sign both kids up for active extracurriculars. I'm sure this will make for an interesting Jan/Feb/March.

(2) Dresses. It's been over a year now, and no change of heart. Sad times for me.

(3) People touching her Barbie house. This was an interesting turn of events. It's not like Anna plays with this item frequently (Christmas gift fail), but heaven forbid anyone else should touch it - even a friend over for a play date. We had a talk about that, and she's melted a little. I told her we didn't have enough space to keep a mausoleum.

(4) Cheese and milk. This is more than an interesting turn of events, this is shocking. She'll still eat them in on occasion, but they used to be her favorite foods. Crazy kid. At least yogurt is still in.

The Greater Whole
Those are few fun facts, but don't nearly capture Anna as a person. As I said, it's hard. She's still our encourager and cheerleader. She loves to give gifts as much as to receive them. Her memory continues to astound, and we continue to miss opportunities to nurture it (parental guilt item #4581). She does not have a best friend but gets along well with everyone, boys and girls alike. She loves loves loves her cousins, and cannot wait to see them again. She is also whiny, easily melts down when physically hurt, and is very emotional. I think this puts off some kids her age, and I can't say I blame them. She needs to get this side of her under control, and I hope that comes as she grows. She likes dogs and cats, and I wish we could have a pet for that reason. I think a pet would do wonders for both children, or even horseback riding lessons, but we are simply not positioned for such things. Anna started a diary, and enjoys writing and listening to books, but not reading per se. She is patient and nurturing with small kids, although can devolve into Miss Bossy Pants as is common at this age. She wants to be an artist some day, but is also mathy with excellent spatial ability. I vote engineering.

Happy seventh birthday, to my little cypher. I am looking forward to the coming year, and wondering what will change, what will stay the same, and who you will grow to be. You are loved, well and deeply.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Party the Seventh

I've heard it said that there are three dimensions to event planning: time, cost, and quality. You can maximize two of those, but never all three. For Anna's seventh birthday extravaganza, I tried to maximize the last two. Which is to say, planning took a fair amount of time.
Anna proposed a Harry Potter theme early in October, after we finished reading the first book. I initially rejected the idea as too involved. But then I realized that all parties I throw are too involved, so we might as well have fun with it. At least she didn't want something along the lines of Lemony Snickett, a phrase which here means "a party that Mommy would despite planning." 

The party took about six weeks to pull together, and a mere two hours to complete. I learned a lot, everyone enjoyed themselves, and so I deem the party a success. I may even put on a sequel based on book two... eventually. Herein is a summary of the festivities. The summary of Anna herself, newly seven, deserves it's own space and thoughtfulness and post.

The invitations invited first year students to meet their teachers in Diagon Alley (a new, early-entrance program), so on party day students were greeted with a simple sign on our front door, and a variety of store front signs in the entry way: Sugarplum's Sweet Shop, Leaky Cauldron, Potage's Cauldron Shop, etc. Eeylop's Owl Emporium was the sign on the bathroom door, and I decorated that small room with a ton of owls.
Some owls I whipped up using pine cones, others were from a foam craft kit that Anna tackled last year. Everything involved bits and pieces I already had on hand. A couple of signs (as well as clues featured later) were antiqued via two preschoolers painting with tea bags. I recommend tea bag painting to any preschooler.

There were eight students, plus three Hogwarts faculty supervisors: Professor Ploof, Head of Hufflepuff and Professor of Magical Home Maintenance (me, in doctoral robes and a feather boa;  nothing adds a touch of crazy like a feather boa); the Head of Slytherin and official Chaos Creator (Jon, featuring a stuffed snake around his neck); the Head of Ravenclaw and Professor of Enchantments (a good friend, also wearing robes and a fabulously enthusiastic attitude).

First we entered Ollivander's Wand Shop (the kitchen) to learn a bit about wand making. Each child chose a wand and decorated it with ribbons, stickers, fancy duct tape, and tinsel. The wands were sticks that were previously whittled down, sanded, and then fancied up using a glue gun and some glitter. This was my first experience with a glue gun before - an oversight which now seems unthinkable.

I wanted to get all the crafty stuff out of the way at once, so next we worked on owl creation. This craft was a simplified version of the pine cone owls. Cotton balls for eyes, with a bit of brown foam for the middle and orange foam for the feet and beak. Feathers, extra cotton balls, and pipe cleaners were also used liberally. The students had some creative ideas and the outcomes were impressive, although I'm not sure these particular owls were flight ready.

After crafts we wandered into the living room, location of the famous book store, Flourish and Blotts. We were in search of our Potion’s text: Magical Drafts and Potions, by Arsenius Jigger. There was one text per child, each containing about 10 recipes. To create the books I looked online for some authentic sounding recipes, modifying ingredient lists and directions according to the items I had on hand. I printed the results off, punched a few holes in the sides, and Anna strung the holes with yarn. A simple and economical way to make a fun party favor.

Next, a flurry of wand waving, three spins, and we disapperated directly to Hogwarts. All first years must be sorted, and thanks to Michael’s post-Halloween sale, we had just the Hat to do it. Made of paper mache it was quite solid, so I merely added a bit of construction paper for the eyes and mouth. After reading the Hat’s song from the book, I began sorting the guests alphabetically. All ended up in Gryffindor, and although Professor Ploof was officially saddened by the lack of Hufflepuffs, this simple act did create a bit of camaraderie among the students. Of course, Jon was in the background the entire time, using his stuffed snake to encourage the students to join Slytherin.

Professor Ploof noted that since everyone was in Gryffindor House, they could take classes together. Convenient since Enchantment’s Class was to begin immediately. Taught by the Head of Ravenclaw, three spells were reviewed: Fire-making, Singing Spell, and the Cheering Charm. Meanwhile, I quietly hustled my youngest two students to the Third Floor Corridor (i.e., the landing leading to the basement). I was very proud of my preschool pupils as they quickly got into place, holding various canine stuffed animals, and waited to take on the role they had practiced for two weeks: Fluffy, the three-headed dog.

If you remember the first book, you know the climax involves a series of challenges and clues as the characters search out the Sorcerer’s Stone. I thought this would translate well to a treasure hunt, which here began with an interruption during Enchantments. There was a knock on the door and upon inspection the students found a mysterious note left by an unknown person:
For your first test, do not fear,
Though three-pronged danger lingers near.
Be brave as you descend the stair,
Then find the clue that lingers there.”

After some discussion, the students realized they must enter the Third Floor Corridor, despite the ominous Keep Out sign. Upon opening the door, the group was greeted by an impressive chorus of growls and yelps by Isaac and his friend, relishing their characterization of Fluffy. The only thing keeping Fluffy at bay was a mysterious set of four colored circles (the drum set from Rock Band), to which was attached this note:
Consult your Potions Book to tap
A tune - so Fluffy takes a nap.”

At this point Professor Ploof, trapped behind Fluffy, communicated the underlying dilemma: the Sorcerer’s Stone had been taken, but someone sympathetic to Hogwarts had left a series of clues to help us locate it. The first years must solve the riddles, and find the stone.
So, how to get past fearsome Fluffy. Here, the students needed to look at the back page of their Potion’s book, where there were two colored dots. Each student took turns tapping the corresponding circle on the drum set, and once this “tune” was tapped out, Prof Ploof was able to use her “Fluffy, Sleep!” spell. Fluffy then curled up quite obediently until all the students passed to the trap door.
The trap door was cobbled together using a piece of cardboard (to give it some heft), a blanket, and a rope tied to the stair railings. On the top was the following clue:
 “The Devil’s Snare awaits you next.
Don’t touch! Or it will squeeze your chest.
If you can pass from here to there,
Another challenge you will share.”

Once all students had passed through the door, they were greeted with a classic party motif at our house: streamers. If you’re familiar with any of our prior parties you know that streamers play a big role, and here they stood in for Devil’s Snare. The goal was to get through to the other side of the room, read the clue, and make their way back.

Luckily, Enchantments Class had featured the Incendio (fire-making) spell, so they were not harmed upon touching the fearsome Snare.
The next clue read as follows:
 Two-by-two you enter here.
The weather’s fierce, but it is clear,
The key to finishing the game,
Is close at hand. So find your name.”

The challenge this time was based on the cavern of flying keys, with the goal of finding the key associated with their name. We have a small hallway in the basement that served as the cavern. I closed it off using some large sheets of felt, a rope, and a couch cushion. Fans at either end of the hall created the weather, blowing around balloons with keys drawn on them. The kids were surprisingly eager to enter the cavern, so enforcing the two-by-two rule was the hardest part. Everyone found their name, as well as the final clue posted on the far end of the cavern:
One last thing before you’re through.
Unscramble the sentence upon the balloons….”

Each name-specific balloon also had a word written on it. With a little adult help, the words were unscrambled to reveal: “The Sorcerer’s Stone is located in the upstairs Owlery.”
The Owlery (upstairs) had also been off-limits, save for emergencies. Obviously, this was an emergency. The students dashed upstairs and there were the stones – a bunch of them in fact, hanging from the owls on the banister. I think they will continue to look magical on any Christmas tree.

That concluded the treasure hunt, and by this time the great feast was ready. The menu included McGonagle’s mac ‘n cheese, Hagrid’s imported dragon tail (pepperoni slices), fruit and veg from Professor Sprout, Dumbledore’s Liquid Lemon Drops (lemonade), and Butterscotch soda from the Leaky Cauldron. I had been excited about the soda, but it was not exactly a hit. It might make a better adult beverage, with a bit vodka and a rat spleen (see below).
The table was simple adorned with silver and gold colored table cloth, paper plates, napkins, etc. Originally, I was going to hang glow sticks using clear, plastic beading string. I was hoping it would give the illusion of floating candles. But I realized there was too much light and not enough time. Will save that trick for the next party.

After the feast the students had energy to burn, so we hunted for the Golden Snitch. This was a simple game, with eight Ferraro Rochet chocolates hidden throughout the living room. Each student was instructed to find only one. Originally, I was just going to use the chocolates as is - handily done up in golden wrapper. However, I quickly realized that with a few simple modifications a pair of wings would emerge, and the result is pictured below.

Potion’s class followed, with students instructed to create a topping for the upcoming ice cream cake. They could use the recipes from their textbook, or do their own thing. Most students went rogue, but a few followed the recipes. No one's concoction floated above the table or emitted a rainbow, though, and they may have been a bit disappointed.

The ingredients were really fun to put together:
dragon's blood (chocolate sauce), sopophorous beans
(chocolate chips), whipped unicorn horns (whipped cream), rat spleen (maraschino cherries), wormwood (pretzels), leech juice (crushed pineapple), etc. etc. The containers were a mixture of glass jars saved over time, metal bowls, containers covered with aluminum foil, etc.

The cake, presents, and mayhem common to all parties followed. Chaos was duly created by Jon, and the kids romped and played until their parents decided it was time to go.
Each student left with a goodie bag, and these may have been the most time consuming part of the whole endeavor. Each bag was a Nimbus 2000 broom, made of a cut up paper bag with a pretzel rod handle. In retrospect it would have been better to use two smaller paper bags, one inside the other, and leave the inside bag intact. Oh well - it's not like they were going to last long, anyway. The goodies inside the bags were the point: a small bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and a chocolate frog.

Ah, the frogs. To quote Ron, "It's the cards you want." So, I duly went online and located some well done printables, which I then laminated. I was pleased with the results, and the kids liked them, too. If only the chocolate frogs had been that straightforward. What I wanted was a simple mold to fill with chocolate, but I couldn't locate such a thing anywhere. Instead, I found a picture online and went to work. My base was an Oreo cookie, with pretzels for legs and green M&Ms for eyes. I planned to cover the whole thing with green tinted, melted white chocolate. My first error was buying cheap white chocolate chips. They tasted horrible. But I forged ahead because I had my heart set on green frogs. Luckily for the kids, I made my second error which was melting the chips without sufficient forethought. I figured tossing them into the top of a double boiler would work, but nooooo. It turned into a massive clump. What I should have done was added butter, but I was in a panic and given the nasty taste I elected to toss the whole thing. Luckily, there were plenty of plain sopophorous beans in the cupboard, so I melted those with plenty of butter (thanks Mom!).

Not enough butter, apparently, since my first couple of attempts looked more like chocolate tarantulas. This was not a good sign.

But I dumped a lot more butter in, and that did the trick, more or less. The results were not as cute as I'd hoped, but at least they weren't going to create nightmares.

If I ever make chocolate frogs again, I will use Thin Mints with chocolate covered pretzels "glued" to the bottom using regular chocolate icing. Much simpler - I wish I would have thought of it sooner.

So, all of that and over in two hours. It was a whirlwind.

But the extant question remained: how much did it all cost? Did I really maximize that dimension? One would think this home-based party was cheaper than a package at some facility, but sometimes things add up. Out of curiosity I added things up, and included the breakdown below. I included items I actually purchased, rather than the cost of using things I had on hand. Obviously, that makes this list specific to me, but I still think it's informative.

Hat - $8
Treasure hunt - $12
Feast - $29
Table d├ęcor - $17
Potion's class - $14
Goodie bags - $18
Total - $98

Overall, substantially cheaper than a party out somewhere. On the other hand, the guest list was pretty small. I'm okay with that, though. This was a unique party for a unique girl, and that's what matters.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Magical Medical Mystery Tour

The problem with waiting months for something is that expectations are invariably high, despite one's best efforts. Such was the case regarding my appointment with Dr. Rheumatologist.

It wasn't all bad, of course. He seems to be a good doctor, and thorough. He took a lot of time, asked a lot of questions, and checked on everything I could have hoped for. It's that last part that has me in knots. The thing is, I'm not sick. Not anymore, anyway. And the more time that passes since the illness of last summer, the more I think I imagined it all, or perhaps things really weren't as bad as they seemed at the time (the Complainer Hypothesis - because if you have kids, you know nothing is as contagious as complaining). These thoughts were bolstered by Dr. R's description of my physical symptoms as "vague." (Although I guess if they weren't "vague" I wouldn't need to see you, Dr. R.)

So as I sit here, about to leave for yet another round of blood work and contemplating the other tests that have been/will be done, about 95% of me just wants to cancel everything and run away. This process is stressing me out, and what's stressful is the the money.

Money. Money. Money.

I do not know how much all this is going to cost, and that is truly terrifying. It's fairly accurate to say I am not terribly concerned about the diagnosis, or lack thereof. Lupus? Bring it on. Addison's? Bite me. Liver disease? Stick it in your bile duct. Nothing? Pass the life insurance. But the bill? If it's big, I may need therapy.

What propels me forward is complicated, in contrast to the doctor's simple desire to figure out why my blood work is off. Now, I also would like to know why my blood work - with it's wonderful objectivity and complete lack of subjective influence - is off. I would also like to know if I will be incapacitated every time we visit Colorado, or at least if my ankles will again swell. If so, I will invest in new footwear. However, I would also like to buy a minivan, and eventually a tiny bit of real estate. And in a stunning act of grown-upness, I would like to buy life insurance. I really, really would.
Part of the reason I continue on is that 5% of me whispering what if? I can't stand even that level of uncertainty right now, as small as it may be. I cannot do nothing when there's a chance that finding something could enable me to be around years/months/weeks/days/etc. longer with my family. I don't want to jeopardize my health because of stinginess.
On the other hand, I am well aware that my discomfort with this level of uncertainty is influenced by our broader situation. There remains much uncertain about our lives. I know we will not be living in this particular home by this time next year - but I don't know which city, state, or even country we will be in. I don't know what Jon will be doing, whether I'll have a job, or if I'll have to find a whole new grocery store. With that cloud hanging above, my tolerance for other uncertainties has diminished. I need to know something. I just wish I had an itemized list of the costs.
Another reason I march ahead is because I, dear reader, am a human being. There! I admit it! And I am not ashamed! And as a human being I am susceptible to the sunk cost effect. Truthfully, I would welcome a diagnosis, for the simple reason that it would justify all the cost (money, time, mental calisthenics) that have been sunk into this endeavor. Not that you, dear reader, are prone to such fallacies. Unless you too are a human.

So there it is. You may assume all is well, unless you hear otherwise. That's what I plan to do, anyway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Candy. It's what's for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast.

I was in error when I last wrote that autumn 2013 wasn't up to par. It simply hadn't peaked. The every day views have been spectacular lately. Bursts of auburn, flaming red, translucent yellow, burnt orange, and purple flamingos. The weather has been similarly pleasant, and that includes Halloween night. This time I was prepared for the almost 200 kids that came to our door. Last year, we had to supplement our candy by sneaking some from the kids' buckets (this was not a bad thing). This year we have left overs, so we'll be making little Halloween houses out of graham wafers.

Originally, the costumes were going to be based on Despicable Me. Isaac practically channels the minions, and pretty much the only fruit Anna eats is bananas, so it made sense. However, I recently finished reading The Sorcerer's Stone to the kids, so Anna elected to be Hermione. The practicality of this choice thrilled me. Almost every part of that costume can be worn as regular clothing, so I didn't mind paying a bit more for the pieces. I purchased the shoes, skirt, socks, and sweater. The shoes and socks she needed anyway, and the skirt was on sale. The sweater was certainly too large (and took the longest to find), but I can sort of fit into it provided I avoid the Halloween candy. The cape came from Isaac's Darth Vader costume, and the tie I made out of ribbon and fabric paint. And yes, I did pat myself on the back for that last idea.

This was going to be the first Halloween that Isaac wasn't Darth Vader (I will note here that the costume fits up to age 10, so I hope he comes 'round once again). I had planned out his minion outfit, which was also thrillingly practical and warm should the weather turn chilly. So I was a little annoyed when Jon asked if Isaac wouldn't rather be a Portal Droid?
Of course he wanted to be a portal droid. What Portal obsessed boy of four wouldn't want to be a Portal droid? I admit I shot some daggers from my eyes at this point. But Jon bravely took on the challenge and planned a great costume using only items from around the house. The portal gun was ingenious. Jon cobbled it together using water bottles, a milk jug, a Nerf gun, and various glowing things. The costume itself was simple, involving white and black clothing and glow sticks.

Of course, these are descriptions of costumes at their most pristine, and that pristine moment was fleeting. Almost immediately after leaving the house, Isaac decided the gun was too heavy. Shortly thereafter, the glow sticks in his socks became itchy and the hat was too hot. Anna's robe was too long and the weight of her 1 ounce wand/stick was simply too much given the ballast of the candy that quickly filled her bucket. Of course, this did facilitate Jon's adopted persona of Sherpa.

I elected to loosen the reigns on candy consumption this time, at least for 24 hours day. I let them eat a bunch after trick-or-treating and the next day. I didn't actually suggest they eat candy, but every time they asked I paused, took a deep breath, and said, "Go ahead." I then proceeded to avert my eyes.
I began weaning them off the next day, and now I let them pick out three pieces in the morning, and they can eat them whenever they want. But that's it - no dessert, no other treats, and everything else is wonderfully and horribly healthy. I did this last year and it continues to go over well. I also see an improvement in Isaac's self control in that he is pacing out his consumption. We did talk a bit about giving away some candy - perhaps sending a bit to the troops overseas who don't get any treats. Isaac listened closely, and very thoughtfully picked out 4 pieces of candy. Anna didn't even bother. To summarize: self-control is up, empathy is down. 

Our jack-o-lanterns also reflected recent interests, although their meaning was opaque to all but the most enlightened of trick-or-treaters. Anna carved out the Mincraft creeper herself, and no injuries were reported. Isaac wanted a Portal theme, so we used one of the Aperature Science logos. I think our family status is now solidly at "geek." I am good with this.

Autumn also means parent-teacher conferences at Anna's school. Overall, she's doing well which isn't surprising. Writing and math are her favorite activities (other than art and gym and lunch and recess, which shall always take precedence). What did surprise me a bit is that she is reading slightly above grade level. It's hard to articulate why this was unexpected, but perhaps it's because her  comprehension so far exceed her verbal production. So part of me believes she should be reading much better. However, I also see her struggle to read, as well as flip letters and numbers and words with great regularity. So part of me assumed she would be a bit behind. Her teacher assured me that this flipping is still developmentally normal - at least until the end of this year. However, Anna is an "older" first grader with a dyslexic dad. So, I guess we'll keep an eye on it.
The other surprising thing is that my dear girl is showing her softer, more... melodramatic side at school. I assumed she saved her tears and penchant for wilting for home, but apparently not. She cries (whimpers?) at least once a day, usually about every day struggles like forgetting a book or not being able to finish her writing at that exact moment. Her teacher is not stern or particularly strict, and is working to assure Anna that these little mishaps are not worth the emotional pain she's ascribing to them. She was wondering if maybe there was something else going on, but I assured her that this is kind of a personality issue with a side of bad habit. Regardless, we're both flummoxed as to the best way to handle this. I think my girl is aware that all this crying is inappropriate, but claims that she just can't help it. I'm not sure what to make of that. I think there's a melodramatic tendency showing itself; perhaps simple immaturity. What I'm dreading, and what her teacher is also dreading, is the social implications of this bad habit. She's going to get hammered by her peers if this doesn't get under control.

And now I am off to collect various children from various places so we can head to the dentist. Anna's last set of fillings is today and she is excited to see the end of Tarzan while in the chair. I am excited to stop giving the dentist my credit card.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October, and the weather is fine.

We're at that very interesting time in autumn, where there is just enough yellow in the green leaves to give the appearance of spring-time buds. This is a slightly discombobulating effect.
It is firmly autumn, however. Not the glorious, colorful autumn we observed last year, but there are still some flaming red trees here and there. Overall, the weather has been very pleasant. Back in Colorado, fall often brought with it biting winds, but that is not the case here. I have been quite happy to leave the winds back west.

We've had a busy October, filled with family. My parents visited early in the month - the first time they've come at the same time. We picked apples and made loads of applesauce (which summarily destroyed my crock pot, but it was worth it). The gals went out for sushi and the guys went out for burgers. We went shopping, decided the thickest milk shakes are at Chick 'fil A, and showed off various scooter and biking skills. We enjoyed hanging out on the soccer field to watch Anna practice one evening, and even Grandma got into the act kicking a ball around with Isaac. There were walks, and lunches, and treats, and just the general goodness of grandparents. It's always a bit like Christmas when family comes to visit.
Jon and I even had the opportunity to go on a hike one morning - we hadn't done that in ages, and it was nice to explore the area a bit.

The day after my parents left, we drove to a resort in the middle of Virginia to meet up with Jon's parents, his sister, and her family. It was five days of glorious cousin chaos in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was our first visit there, but hopefully not our last. There was so much to do, from go-karts and mini-golf to nature talks, caverns, and water slides. But at the end of every day, when asked what they liked best, the kids always said the same thing: being with cousins. For Jon and I, it was nice to just get away for a bit - it renews one's perspective. 

                                                                     Luray Caverns

Since coming back, we've been trying to establish a routine. Now that Isaac's schooling has changed, my own schedule has been in flux. Things are slowly solidifying, but it's still a work in progress. I've also been abnormally tired, which has made my evenings less productive. Some days it's all I can do to stay awake until 8:30 (when the kids are in bed - technically, anyway). Luckily, I'm okay during the day (thank you, caffeine), but around 5:00 things get hard. So, once soccer is over, we're going to take a break from the extra-curriculars until January.

Fall is always a full season, and at our house it includes Anna's birthday. I had been kind of dreading having a party, since I wasn't sure who to invite or what we should do. But in the spirit of simplicity, we're keeping it small (6 guests) and it will be at home. I guess a home party isn't exactly simple, but I'm excited about the theme. It will be a Harry Potter party - Anna's idea since we've just finished reading the first book. I'm collecting ideas and plans, and am really looking forward to it.

Regarding the job search, no news yet. Some days, I feel certain something will come through. Other days I suspect we'll be here for a long time, a thought that brings panicky feelings. This is a terribly unfair reaction, considering the community we're starting to build. Maybe that's the problem. I'm skittish about building up a community, only to say goodbye yet again. And yet, to not invest in relationships is time wasted. Hopefully clarity will come soon.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A different year than expected

Today is Isaac's first day at a new preschool, and I am filled with a cacophony of emotions.

Sadness about leaving the old preschool which Isaac and I both loved.
Frustration at the inaction which led to our departure.
Hopefulness about this new school.
Thankfulness because Isaac knows one of the boys in this class.
Annoyance that I may not receive any tuition back from the old school.
Blessed by how God has worked out the details such that Isaac can still attend preschool even if we are not reimbursed.
Guilt about removing Isaac from a familiar place with familiar people. 
Confusion about how to deal with my schedule now that it has turned upside down. 
Residual anxiety from two weeks of agonizing about this situation.
Worry that I did not make the right choice.
Confidence that this was the only rational option.
More worry.

Briefly, the situation is this: For awhile, I've been uncomfortable with certain aspects of Isaac's former school. This discomfort was not without warrant, and last year promises were made to parents that the situation would be rectified. It was on the basis of these promises that I enrolled Isaac in the program for this year. However, the changes were not been made and it recently became apparent that plans were moving slowly, if at all.
At the beginning of this school year, I tried to shake off my unease. After all, all the other parents seemed nonchalant so perhaps I was over-dramatizing the risks. I do tend to be hyper-vigilant [Jon, laughing: you think?!], but at least I have some self-awareness about this and can generally (sometimes) take my emotions down a notch before acting. But my unease didn't dissipate over the weeks, so I finally discussed my concerns with Jon. He has the knack of seeing things clearly and bringing me back to reality. So I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, when he shared my concerns and said we should act. So I double checked my facts and talked it over with a friend who also tends to be level headed, and could offer a more objective opinion. She agreed with Jon.

Well, nuts. Obviously I now had to do something, and all roads led to monumental efforts on my part. I needed to confront the school administration (ack), as well as make a decision regarding Isaac's future. After all, other preschool slots were filling up fast.
To make a long story short, after much prayer and thought, I did both of those things. And they were very very hard. In the end I removed Isaac from his school, and it has been a heart-breaking decision. I know it's tempting to think of this year as "just preschool," but I think that's a disingenuous attitude. Yes, this is one year in the life of a small boy but I would argue it's an important year. At this age, routines and familiarity are so very important. Feeling secure in one's surroundings frees up a young mind to learn both the ABCs as well as foundational social skills. And from his perspective it must seem like I ripped that security away. It was still the right decision, but also the worst.

What gives me hope is what seems to be working out at the new school. I chose this particular school because Isaac has a friend in the class. Furthermore, I will be looking after this friend a couple of mornings a week, which will provide just enough income to cover the cost of Isaac's tuition (even if I don't get reimbursed). This arrangement is an answer to prayer for both his mom, and me.

So God has provided, which I think is the moral of this story. He provided what was needed, when it was needed. No more, no less. This theme also applies to what is happening at Isaac's former preschool. After I let them know that I was taking Isaac out, the wheels of change sped up. Maybe a coincidence, but I'd like to think we had something to do with it. Removing a child from a program makes a bigger statement than never enrolling them in the first place. We may lose all that tuition money, but I have faith it is for a good cause.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Nine schools, seven states, two countries. So far.

This week I spent most of my time working on the pile of things I have ignored for many weeks. (Some of these are literal piles located on the floor of my daughter's room. Of course, she views them as motifs.) Until recently, all our efforts were focused on Jon's applications for faculty positions. And now they're submitted, and we're feeling a little spent. Applications are not only an intellectual exercise, but for me also an emotional one. In the spring we felt pretty strongly that it was time to begin this process, but we have no indication of what the outcome will be. And even less information on when it will be. Jon is an excellent candidate, in a field riddled with excellent candidates. Candidates who did not spend some of their post-graduate lives in industry (which is not considered a plus in many disciplines - their loss). And to add to the difficulty, there weren't a ton of openings in his particular niche. I say all this, not to bemoan our present state, but to highlight the fact that securing a faculty position will be a miraculous event. That is, if/when this happens, you can know a miracle has occurred.
So in the interim, we are waiting. We're not sure how long we have to wait, or when the waiting will be over, or what exactly we're waiting for, or what we should do during the wait. I guess we are also learning contentment.

More interesting, is that the kids are back in school. Anna now takes the bus, which I was hesitant about at first. Happily, however, busing turns out to be a blessing for everyone. For me, it's easier to get everyone out the door and down the street, compared to out the door and in the car. For her, it's created a positive in-between time, with the commute helping the transition between her at-home self and her at-school self. [Does this mean she is most herself on the bus? Oh, to be a bug on the windshield.] School itself is also going fine. Math, spatial reasoning, and art continue to be her strong suits, and reading continues to improve. Like many elementary-age kids, she's in that tough spot, where her verbal comprehension far exceeds her written comprehension. I know I would rather read The Wizard of Oz than Hop on Pop, and so would she. So, we do both.

In fact, we're more intentional about incorporating homework and and formal reading into our family time this year, and it's been great on many levels. After dinner, Isaac does some preschool-level work with one parent, while Anna completes her assigned homework with the other. This includes math, reading, and some extra vocabulary stuff we've thrown in. Nothing ground-breaking, we've just made this a formal priority. One of the consequences is a commitment to avoid extracurricular activities after dinner time. This has reduced our after-school options, considerably, but it's worth it for us. I really look forward to this focused time with the kids, and I think they do, too.

As for Isaac, he does not want to go to school. No surprise there. He is too busy playing! Such a busy busy little man. But he is learning a lot, and is always in high spirits when I pick him up. Unlike Anna, for whom the preschool days all seemed a blur, he is more than happy to recount the various things he did and the various people he did them with. He seems to have a knack for names, and I suspect he will be an early reader. Not that I'm nudging him in that direction, or anything. As soon as the kids learn to read, I'm going to have to be a lot more careful about the news sites I read (since our computer is in the center of the action at our house), and the Christmas lists I leave around. And I can hardly wait to explain the billboards advertising adult stores. Ugh. Early reading is like early walking. A mixed blessing.

The one extra-curricular we are doing is soccer. Both kids are enrolled, and one of them loves it. Guess who? I think soccer is a great sport - lots of running, learning how to work with a team, and having to attend to the ball. Alas, Anna is one of the less experienced players on her team, so that's provided all the struggles you might expect. Jon's been coaching her, and there's been much improvement, but I don't think we'll do this again next year. I just don't have it in me to continue dragging her to the games. At least I bought her blue soccer shoes, so Isaac will eventually get to wear them. Swimming lessons may be the next thing we do. It's an important, potentially life-saving skill, and may be worth the trouble. But before that, there's still a couple more months of soccer to get through.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday already?

Things have felt a little out of control lately. This is probably why I went to Target and bought a bunch of organizational bins for our dining room. This room has become our defacto art center, although it looks more like a disaster than a center. Anyway, if I can't control my life, at least I can organize the markers and glue.

One of our recent challenges is simply a full schedule. I volunteered to help at our church's VBS, which would have been enough in itself, but I somehow scheduled a bunch of other things at the same time. Jon was also absent at a conference somewhere in there. A conference in Las Vegas, engendering more sympathy than anything else. It is July, after all, and Vegas is not the sort of city either of us is fond of. Jon's main observations about his time there: (1) there were a lot of children considering the lack of kid-friendly activities, (2) Cirque du Soleil has basically taken over, (3) Caesar's Palace is indeed palatial, (4) food is expensive, but actually good, (5) it is strange to look out the window at 6 a.m. and see empty streets save for a van driving in circles, with "Girls Girls Girls" written on the side.
We were both happy when he returned.

Back to VBS, which was quite a bit of fun. This is a church that really values its children and their education. Many people were involved in the program, regardless of whether they had children attending. This contributed to the excellent organization, since responsibilities could be spread out. There were also a lot of teens involved, and they displayed great maturity and a willingness to take on responsibility. I think they're excellent role models for my kids.
The downside of the week was some of the belief systems that came to light. I'm going to write pretty freely here, since no one from our church reads this blog and I don't think that will change in the near future. The short story is that they seem to ascribe to an aggressive form of young-earth creationism. For the uninitiated, this is the belief that the earth was created by God in six days, and is only a few thousand years old. Now to be clear, it is not this teaching per se that I find troublesome. Rather, it is the conflation of a young earth theory with "science".
My thinking is this: if you believe God created the world in six days, embrace it! Go for it wholeheartedly, without reservation! Treat it as the miracle it is. Because surely this would count as a miracle. And what is a miracle? It is an act of God that transcends space, time, physics, science, etc. In other words, you don't need science to explain it. Let science be. Don't feel like you have to justify your belief in a miracle, because that will lead to very sketchy "science" and (il)logical mental gymnastics that can cause migraines.
Furthermore, don't tell me that because I believe in a God of patience and attention to detail, a God that used billions of years to ever-so-carefully create the universe, that I am on the brink of denying the truth of the bible.
And do not tell me that dinosaurs were on the ark. Do. Not. Go. There.

This was a stressful discovery about our church, and we're wondering what to do about it. There's certainly an argument for letting it go, particularly if creation doesn't come up in the kids' curriculum. In general, I really like their overall theology, teachings, etc. On the other hand, the view they seem to espouse is so aggressive that I wonder if they'd be open to us becoming members. So, we're thinking about next steps.

It was also that week that I had a follow up visit with my doctor. You may recall that in my last post I mentioned that I had some blood tests done, due to my illness while on vacation. Well, turns out they were not all negative. So, I am referred to a specialist who is booked until November. I really wish I was the sort of person who could just let information like this slide off my back. After all, the results were "not terrible" and there's nothing life-threatening going on.
But, I am not that person and so I googled the vague blood test results listed on the referral. This was a stupid stupid thing to do, but I did it. (You would, too. Admit it!) What will probably happen is that the doctor will take a wait-and-see approach, which will be unsatisfying. On one hand, a diagnosis would simply suck. On the other hand, if I'm being completely honest, it would be nice to have a label to hang my various symptoms on. Things that started over the winter and continue to be bothersome now. "Not terrible," of course.

All of these events have been happening against the backdrop of one big (happy!) thing, which is that Jon is gearing up to apply for academic jobs. We've really felt a pull in this direction, and have tried to be prayerful about it. So, there's been a lot of writing and thinking about teaching, research, etc. I feel strongly that Jon would thrive in the academic environment, and he could really make an impact. Not just through his research, but through his mentoring of students. Although he has had limited opportunity to practice this skill, he's also a pretty good teacher. He'll start applying to job postings within a month, and we have some strong ideas about where we'd like to end up. But it's really completely out of our hands. So in the meantime I'm organizing markers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The ants go marching

     "It goes by many names: The Crisis, The Dark [Days], The Walking Plague, as well as newer and more 'hip' titles such as World War [B] or [B] War One. I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable B War Two. For me, it will always be The [Bug] War, and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the word [bug], they will be hard-pressed to discover a more globally accepted term for the creatures that [invaded my kitchen.]"  - Excerpt from World War [B]

     Maybe I'm overstating the case here, but the discovery that ants had a tidy little provision line set up in our kitchen was an unwelcome discovery when we returned home last week. Since then, there's been constant skirmishes and battles. Alas, winter is nowhere in sight.
     Ants were not the only unhappy surprise. We arrived in the midst of a serious heat wave, which here means "sticky, oppressive mugginess with suffocating temperatures above 95 degrees." Needless to say, the kids and I took advantage of the pool most days and I was thankful for the a/c every day. Although the pool wasn't exactly cool it was at least colder than the hot tub, which strangely had people in it every day that we were present. A little weird, yes?

Other random thoughts from the week:
- Regardless of whether the temperature is +40 C or -40 C, the effect on my life is about the same. We tend to stay inside, although outside activities are not entirely out of the question; the car is a horrid place to climb into; the time required to put on sunscreen versus snow suit is about the same. 
- Traveling back to Denver after our ranch excursion, I could not believe that we were not driving straight to our old house. How could we not be living there? I did not want to leave CO. But having been back in our MD house for a bit, I am in fact happy to be in my own space. I am enjoying "home," wherever that is.
- Simply gorgeous thunderstorms visited us this week. Some with the moon back-lighting the cumulus clouds. Some with constant cloud-to-cloud lightning. Some with impressive streaks to the ground. All eluding my attempts to photograph them.
- We saw our first movie as a family: Despicable Me 2. This was a highly anticipated event in our family, due largely to the minions. The kids love those little guys and we may coordinate our Halloween costumes accordingly. My overall review: 3/5 stars. Held the kids attention more or less, but I was counting the minutes about mid-way through.
I'm more excited about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. So many puns! And that leek joke gets me every time.
- In my last post, I mentioned that my altitude sickness was pretty bad while we were in the west. In truth, it was really bad and lasted beyond the duration of the trip. So I visited the doctor and had some tests run, and they all came back normal. While good news for my overall health, it also means I can expect to be decimated whenever we go back out west. Perhaps I am showing my age?
- It's cherry season, so my addiction is in full bloom. I suppose someone needs to save me from myself, but I really don't want them to.
- Speaking of food, my mom introduced me to this Yonanas thing. So far, I've managed to avoid going out and buying one myself, but I think I may cave today. It's kind of fantastic. Not as fantastic as cherries, but still pretty good.
- This week my kids neither want to visit the library, nor pick fruit at one of the local orchards. Obviously, we are doing something terribly wrong.
- Lately, my kids love nothing better in the evening than to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and watch Stephen Hawking pontificate on life, the universe, and everything. Obviously, we are doing something terribly right.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Floods, fires, friends, family

I have a thing for alliteration.
Anyway, we just returned home after a whirlwind 3 1/2 weeks. The kids and I were in Canada for a couple of weeks (Alberta and Saskatchewan), meeting up with Jon at DIA. We stayed in the Denver area for one night, then it was an early start to New Mexico, near Taos. There we gathered with Jon's extended family for a few nights. Next up, a drive to a dude ranch near Durango for four nights with Jon's immediate family to celebrate his parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Finally, back to the Denver area for two nights, then hopped a plane to BWI.

So let's do the numbers:
Four flights
Four airports,
Eleven flight hours (taxiing not included)
Five beds
Thirty hours on the road
Two provinces
Two states
Three family reunions
One giant dinosaur (more on that later)

Given the velocity of it all, I'm not sure vacation is the appropriate descriptor. But enjoyment is in there, as is refreshing, and suspension of work. The logistics were difficult, but it was a good trip. I was sad when it was over.
In light of the scope of the past month, I'm taking a cue from my brother-in-law who chose to describe his vacation in terms of memorable moments, instead of favorite ones.

Here are a few memories that will stand out:

1) Floods. The night the kids and I landed in Calgary, the heavens opened and flooded out downtown, the zoo, the Stampede grounds, and our favorite camping spot in the mountains. This was/is a major event in the history of this city. My folks' house was unaffected, so it was hard to fathom the devastation that was occurring so close. Among the notable details was the difference in how the local authorities handled the devastation, compared to what one might expect in the U.S. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I can't imagine U.S. authorities denying homeowners access to their houses until welcome centers and hardware stores were opened. Additionally, I seriously doubt American authorities would enter private citizens' homes to remove any guns before allowing people back. On the other hand, no one was abandoned in a conference center.

2) Fires. While Calgary was flooded out, large portions of the southwest were on fire. I checked the Denver Post regularly for updated area and road closures, wondering if our travel plans would be affected by the now routine mega-fires. Thankfully, all was well in our travel vicinity.

3) More floods. I drove through the worst rainstorm of my life... in Denver. To be clear, Denver certainly gets downpours, but they usually don't last as long as an hour. And I'm usually not driving a low-lying hybrid car when they happen. And I generally don't worry about floating away in a river that used to be Wadsworth Blvd.

4) Prayer. I met with a couple of friends from my CO prayer group one morning. We sat outside at a cafe, caught up, and prayed for each other. I really miss that. 

5) Family. Saskatoon is a homey city, surrounded by a rolling prairie ocean, and filled with my extended family. What I will remember is their hospitality, despite my absence from the region for over a decade. I will also remember the heat, the paddling pools, and Anna driving a team of Welsh horses. 
In New Mexico, we met up with Jon's extended family. What I will remember is the lack of superficial conversations. I will also remember running four miles around the lake and not dying from altitude sickness. I think the kids will remember the elaborate city they created in the woods, running from Ruzers, and being rated on millinery by the Mad Hatter's chaotic bench of judges. 

6) Firsts.
   - Isaac's first movie in an actual theater, with Uncle T and Miss Jean. (Will he will remember that it was Monster's University?) 
    - Anna's first time riding horses. At the dude ranch she was assigned Gidget, a golden horse with a braided name, a gentle soul, and indifference at Anna's inability to remember her name. I treasure the memory of my girl decked out in a pink western shirt and pink cowboy hat, riding her horse forward and backward and all over the place. I could barely get my horse to stop and go.
    - Anna catching her first (two) fish
    - Isaac's first boat ride
    - Mommy (and Anna) tubing for the first time. Turns out tubing is fun, which was... unexpected.

7) Falling. My sister-in-law was bucked off her skittish horse the first day. But she got back on right away, and rode every day since. I surely would not have done the same.

8) Food. At the ranch we enjoyed gourmet meals constantly. But what I really enjoyed was the hour before dinner, drinking mojitos on the deck, watching the plethora of hummingbirds, and chatting with family.

9) Altitude. We've gone from sea level to CO before and it always had an effect. Usually Jon would get nausea for 1-3 days and I would feel anemic. This time we were slammed: flu-like symptoms, violent chills, aching joints, exhaustion, etc. But in terms of illness most of the news was very good. No one came down with a virus, and the kids were seemingly unaffected by the altitude. Perhaps Jon and I were simply showing our age.

10) Dinosaurs. On our way to Saskatchewan we stopped in Drumheller, Canada's paleontological mecca. Although we didn't visit the museum, we made the most of the visitor center. The kids and I climbed to the top of their resident T-Rex and looked out the mouth. We were also attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, so we didn't stay long.

11) Patience. We visited Calaway Park with my parents, and Anna busted out her super-hero skill: waiting in lines. That girl can wait in lines like no child I've seen. She went on every scary ride she could find, regardless of the wait. Luckily my Dad was there and rode them all with her. Isaac was too small for the scariest, so I spent much time explaining that he could ride them next summer. This explanation was marginally successful.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


I've never liked spring. It always seemed a muddy, windy, chilly mess. But now I realize the problem was my location. Spring can be done well and can be beautiful. Here, the sun comes out, the grass and flowers spring instantly to life, and the air becomes soft and warm. Humidity lurks around the corner like a puma, but elects to hold off. In short, no one does spring like the mid-Atlantic.
This realization made me ponder a great gift that bopping around North America has given me: the enjoyment of each season in the location that does each of them best. Here's my highly individualized and opinionated list:

Spring: Mid-Atlantic, as previously mentioned. I will also note that we had the foresight to embark on our inaugural east coast camping trip a couple of weekends ago, and it was timed perfectly. No wind (first. time. ever.), not too hot during the day, nor too cold at night. Anna had a blast and Isaac complained the whole time, mostly about being bored because no one was playing with him constantly. Despite this, he had fun I think. Mostly fun with the axe and the fire, but that's the way it goes sometimes. He also managed to fall into 6" of water and completely soak himself from hat to shoe. He waited to complete this feat until we were at the furthest point of our hike. As a result, I have this memory of him riding daddy's shoulders, wearing only Anna's graciously donated sweater, with a little bum peeking out from underneath. The point is, spring is a good time for outdoorsy stuff around here, although the ticks and poison ivy continue to terrify me.

Summer: For my (flight) money, it's Alberta every time. Warm without being oppressive, and the evenings cool down down dramatically which is better for sleeping. Gorgeous thunderstorms, but rarely a whole day filled with rain. Sunsets late into the evening (10ish), although I do have a beef with the sunrises (4ish). You can grow giant pumpkins with that much sunshine, and many do. Lakes, rivers, hills, trees, flowers, mountains, and tiny tiny bugs. I love Alberta. Counting the days until our return.

Fall: The Northeast, of course. Brilliant BRILLIANT trees. It looks like someone painted them. Much has been written about the beauty of the trees, so I won't expound on that. What I will say is that autumn also brings with it relief from the oppressive summers, which was a big deal when we didn't have central air. The fruit orchards are also without compare. Apples, peaches, plums, pears.... outstanding.

Winter: This is tricky, and it really depends on what one wants to do during this season. The best vacation I ever had was in early December on our honeymoon in Cancun. Being between the Thanksgiving and Christmas visitors, the resort was uncrowded while the weather was still perfect. But we didn't live there, of course. The best winter living is Colorado. Like snow? It can come down in buckets for all your skiing, snowshoeing, fort building, and snowball throwing needs. Sick of snow? It will be mostly gone in a week or so. Not enough snow? Head for the nearby mountains, where it stays all through the season. The temps rarely get too cold (again, this is an individualized assessment; and I'm from Canada) and there's usually a few spring-like days to beat the January/ February doldrums. Of course it can get really cold, which is a great excuse for snuggling by the fire with hot cocoa.
Of course my Dad, who hates the white stuff, would say that Yuma, AZ is the best place to spend winter. He is entitled to his opinion. Even if it's wrong.

Obviously I am partial to the places that I have lived. But I do think each of them has a shining season, and I'm glad to have experienced them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Isaac is now four years old. This has imbued him with a variety of super powers, including (but not limited to):
- He can eat a whole Flinstone's vitamins instead of half a vitamin. What has not changed is that he can only have one vitamin per day. This was sad news.
- He can suddenly reach the mail slot.
- He no longer requires baths? Umm... no. After a long evening spent celebrating his birthday, I stated that since it was his birthday he did not have to take a bath. After a short pause, he looked at me quite hopefully and asked, "Ever?"
- He can count to 50, provided no one interrupts him or notes that he is indeed counting to 50.
- He can write out "Stop." This may be a superpower, or it may be a testament to the effectiveness of the Department of Transportation.
- His dinner time "yummys" and "yuckys" have moved beyond, "My yucky is Daddy gone [to work], and my yummy is Daddy home." Yuckys now include owies, baths (see above), and not receiving dessert after ever meal. Yummys can include playing outside, playing inside, and playing with other children (both inside and outside).

Furthermore, this lucky little man had two whole birthday parties, more or less. As a result of the eyes of pink, Isaac's official birthday party was postponed an entire week. We, purposely kept the original party small (two families), since he gets overwhelmed when many people are about. Also, we are dealing with a relatively small space here. So it was quite unfortunate when one of those families could not make the revised time. Solution: two mini parties.
The first came on Isaac's actual birthday, which morphed from a low key, family only, pizza-ice cream cake-presents affair, to a small scale extravaganza with a little friends from church. The above were included, along with a sphaghetti forest (anna's idea) and the balloon tent. Given the level of energy expended over the 2 hours our friends were here, I found myself grateful that the scale was kept small. The kids all played together very well, and Jon and I had a few moments of adult conversation.

The second party was different than expected. On Friday, we got the decorations up, stuffed the pinata, laid out goody bags, set the table, and baked brownies. Saturday morning at 5:50 a.m., Isaac woke up with pink eye and a bad attitude. So that put the brakes on having friends over.
We made the best of it. I put up streamers for the rain forest vines (goal: find the geckos without touching the vines), Anna made a couple of carnival games (throw the ball into the bag! find the cups! shake the marbles!), and they played in the balloon tent. We also played the garbage man game, which would have been a lot more fun had more kids been here. It's a simple idea: the kids and I stand on opposite ends of the hallway and throw "garbage" at each other for 60 seconds. Whomever has the most garbage on their side loses. Garbage mostly consisted of pieces of cloth, clean balled up paper towels, and empty toilet paper rolls. The pinata will have to wait until a play date. It's an item that really does need a good number of participants. Lots of food, and an impromptu Star Wars viewing completed most of the day.

It's a shame we couldn't have people over. I was looking forward to some more adult conversation. But that's life. Isaac took the down-sized celebration very well, considering how much he had been looking forward to it. Good thing I kept a present on reserve for today - that helped soften the blow. And of course there were brownies.

I must give a shout out to Anna here: she was just as excited that it was Isaac's birthday as he was. No competition, no grabbing for the spotlight, and no jealousy over the presents. She was right in there, making games, getting excited over his presents, and even carrying out the cake for him. She is our encourager and cheerleader, and this was an extension of that. She's a great big sister.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beware the Eyes of Pink

This is one of those days that really could have been worse.
Yesterday, Anna had a watery right eye that was a bit red. She wasn't really complaining about it, and I figured it was allergies. She didn't have allergies in Colorado, but then again she wasn't on a daily steroid. I gave her some Claritan and that was that.
Her teacher ended up sending her to the nurse because of that eye, and I called the doctor's office because of that eye, but we all agreed that it was probably allergies, so I didn't worry about it.
Until this morning.
When I woke up my poor girl, both eyes were well and truly glued shut. It took a good five minutes to work them open with a warm, wet cloth. To her credit, Anna didn't have a meltdown upon discovering that her eyes were welded shut. She merely whimpered softly while Mommy attempted to melt the goop. It was fairly obvious she had conjunctivitis, subsequently confirmed by the doctor. Furthermore, she does indeed have allergies so we've started her on Allegra (Claritan, you are ineffectual).

To sum up: aw, nuts.

First, Anna missed her little spring party at school. Second, she missed art class which is her favorite thing to do. Third, she now needs eye drops three times a day. This is a nearly impossible feat, so it is no wonder that I am sitting here with a glass of Malbec [mental note: Malbec is very very tasty].

On the bright side, the doctor said she will no longer be contagious after 24 hours of drops. This means she will not miss her extra-curricular activity tomorrow afternoon, nor will she miss the super-fun birthday party of her classmate on Sunday.
For Isaac, the future is not so bright.

Little Man's birthday party was supposed to be tomorrow morning (during the "infectious period") so I have elected to put off his party until next week. I wondered whether I could reschedule to tomorrow in the late afternoon, but for all I know he will wake up with red eyes tomorrow morning. I can hardly wait to see how I will coax drops into the eyes of a violent preschooler.

Overall, this could have made for a morose Friday, but lucky for us the weather was fine. Which is honest-to-goodness a novelty around here. The kids spent most of the afternoon outside, and I was able to "weed the forest" as per our lease (*grumble grumble snarl*). The local kids joined Anna and Isaac in making fairy houses and fishing with large sticks. Whether this activity results in cases of poison ivy and/or tick bites remains to be seen, but I shall keep a positive attitude (at least I sprayed me and mine with deet). And joy of joys, Jon came home early. This is always a lovely surprise and a great gift. If only because it gives me a bit of time to sit here and chat with you, dear reader.

Whether tomorrow will be as bright, who can say? If nothing else, Chuck 'E Cheese or MacDonalds will save us. Until then, pass the Malbec.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

That time of year when I'm glad I don't have allergies.

Maryland really knows how to do spring. It seems every tree is in bloom. Flowers are everywhere, the air is becoming softer (my choice interpretation of the increase in humidity), and the wind no longer bites. The in-your-bones damp cold has lifted and the only snow comes from the showering blossom petals. Not that there was much snow at all this season. We had two days where there was enough to pull out the sled, and it didn't last the afternoon in either case. We made the most of it, though. One of those days Isaac had a 102F fever, but he was determined to get out there and make the most of the snow.

So spring has arrived just in time. I had my cranky pants pulled up pretty high during all of March and part of April. Everyone sick, sleep inconsistent, and plenty of grey outside made for a downer of a month. The one bright spot was my Mom. She stayed with us for a couple of weeks, and injected plenty of sunshine upon her arrival. As Anna puts it, it's always Christmas when Grandma arrives. We didn't do anything in particular, but simply having her here made for a vacation-y atmosphere. Boy, we miss Grandma.

Since then we've planted some flowers (and grapefruit mint! and cucumber!) and I've even been able to run outside on occasion. Visits to the park have been more pleasant, and the neighborhood kids are out in force. All these contribute to a better mood all around. As per our lease, I still need to go out back and weed the forest, but perhaps that won't be as onerous as anticipated. Although if the wasps' nest is still there, it may be onerous indeed.

On the social front, things remain bleak. Jon summed up the rather odd position I'm in: at Anna's school all the moms work; at church, all the at-home moms either send their kids to private school or home school. There is no obvious way to create a community, from my perspective. It will take a lot of work, and I'm wondering if switching churches may be part of that. This thought makes me sad since there's a lot about this church that I like. Their doctrine is sound, they have a great Christian education program for the kids, and everyone is very nice. But... there's no obvious entry point for new people, and I don't feel extraverted enough at this point to bust my way in.
I may also be grouchy about this since I've been (non-maliciously) stood up a couple of times in the past week. But I shall keep plugging away, and remind myself that such things take time. And the older one gets, the more time they take.

Academically, the kids continue to do well. Anna still enjoys school (except for music - too much listening, not enough dancing) and her progress is fine. She is learning to read, but is not incredibly motivated to just pick up a book and practice. She'd rather write her own sentences, codes, treasure hunts, etc. And I can't say I blame her. When one is listening to fabulous books like Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, and The Magician's Nephew, it's hard to get excited about sounding out Green Eggs and Ham. This is largely my fault. I try to get the kids up and moving after school and there's only so many post-classroom hours in a day. And I have to make dinner somewhere in there. Anyway, I'm not too concerned. I have a feeling that reading will suddenly click in Anna's head in a big big way, and then there will be no stopping her. I see a voracious book appetite in her future.

Speaking of appetite, Isaac's seems to have grown immensely. That boy can EAT. He is always hungry. He is also, apparently, often bored. Perhaps there is a connection? Poor guy misses the excitement of playing and fighting with his sister during the day. And does preschool alleviate this boredom? Judging by his protests in the morning, I would say no. "It's BORING," he shouts as we attempt to get out the door. Of course once we're there, he's more than happy to go and he likes his teachers and classmates, etc. I suspect that his reticence stems from the interruption in his morning play. Perhaps next year, when he goes five days instead of two, the routine will be enough to improve his attitude. Not that it matters. He's going, no matter what.
And he is learning up a storm. I'd say his letter/number/sound recognition is almost where Anna's was at the beginning of the year. This is likely a benefit of having an older sibling. Despite Anna's complete eschewing of any and all competitive inclinations, he doesn't mind a little sibling rivalry. So if Anna has homework to do, you better believe he's going to try it first.
Now if only that competitive nature could be turned towards not wetting the bed. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Always choose the white icing

Recent observations, lessons learned (and relearned), and testable theories.

(1) If there is any possibility that one's preschooler will have a fit such that they make themselves throw up that extra valentine's brownie that you knew they shouldn't get anyway, then AT LEAST choose the brownie with the white icing and not the one with the bright Red Dye #5 icing. Especially if this fit will occur on, or near, a light coloured rug.

(2) Sometimes a simple misstep can have dire consequences. Case in point, on Sunday morning my dear mother tripped. And don't we all trip? Regularly? But here it resulted in a dislocated shoulder, broken nose, shattered finger, and so many cuts and bruises. My awesome brother sped down to take care of business (Dad was up north), and now she is home recovering. Dad is with her now, thankfully. But it sucks that I am so far away. It's also a reminder that Jon and I really need to get life insurance. Because you never know.

(3) School closures/delays/early dismissals due to inclement weather are seemingly random and without inclement-ness. But I may have discovered a clue to this cypher. The key may be the word ice when located somewhere in a county-wide weather alert. I will continue to investigate and test this theory.

(4) One nice thing about moving is our present lack of commitments. The upside of alone, if you will. Lately, we've enjoyed the lack of busy weekends, although week nights can still be full. That's the thing about all-day school, I guess. Extracurriculars are slotted into the dinner hour.

(5) Anna likes sushi. This time her favorite was the sweet potato maki rolls, but she ate a bunch of salmon and yellow tail rolls as well. This isn't the first time we've had sushi, but I thought maybe she would have changed her mind since then. Thankfully not. This bodes well for our culinary future as a family.

(6) Speaking of food, Isaac has very specific ideas on eating. Treats go down the "front throat," healthy foods tend towards "back throats" near the neck. Ice cream has it's own throat, somewhere near the front. Fluids likewise have their own throats. He claims this system gives him room for dessert, even when he's finished a fairly large meal.

(7) I've started to drink my coffee black. Not the first cup, but the second (or third some days). I feel this is a bad sign.

(8) Sunday was a fantastic hair day. I mentioned this to Jon and he thinks my hair looks the same every single day. This is a cliche, but there it is.

(9) Some time before April I will test the theory that bacon makes everything taste better. I will broadly define bacon to include a variety of smoked meats including (and possibly not limited to), proscuitto, back bacon (Canadian bacon in the U.S.), and ham. My methods will be varied and spread over the course of 5-7 days. Two out of three meals will incorporate bacon into one to three dishes. Participants will be asked to rate their culinary experiences using a Likert scale where 1 = "Bacon offered no improvement," and 5 = "I hated this dish until bacon was included and now I can't get enough." A novel negative Likert scale may also be included wherein -5 = "The inclusion of bacon in this dish made me want to rinse my mouth out with soap."
Participants will be paid at the standard rate of dessert.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Thirty things that make my three year old freak out.

My own list is inspired by the one on this blog, which is funnier than my list. So read mine first.

1) His socks have a "bump."
2) He did not get to blow out the match.
3) His sister went up the stairs first.
4) He wants to buckle himself into the car.
5) It's too hard to buckle himself into the car.
6) The car is TOO HOT! [Ambient temperature = 32 F]
7) His hands are TOO HOT! [Ambient temperature = Any]
8) He does not want to wash his hands.
9) He does not want to wash his hands alone.
10) He did not get to flush the potty.
11) The water, as he stands in the bath tub, is TOO HOT!
12) Fifteen minutes later, as he sits in the bath tub, the water is TOO COLD!
13) A soap bubble came within five inches of his eye.
14) He was told not to drink the vegetable dip.
15) Snow is not warm.
16) He cannot have hot ice cream.
17) Daddy left for work without giving him a hug. [Actual hug, 2 minutes prior.]
18) He does not want egg in his French toast.
19) He wants to GET OUT OF HERE!
20) His sister got to finish the last drop of Daddy's Coke.
21) I washed his owie, which healed two weeks ago.
22) It is TOO SUNNY. [Ambient light level = 10 lumens]
23) The food is TOO SPICY. [No actual spices added.]
23) Flu shots exist.
24) He did not see the stink bug before it was flushed away.
25) He saw the stink bug.
26) There are no youtube videos playing on the computer where Mommy is working.
27) Lotion threatened to touch his skin.
28) I hugged his sister in plain sight.
29) Wind.
30) I didn't play cars right.

Monday, January 21, 2013


January has kind of sucked, and not even for the usual reasons. I think it all started when I took the kids to the dentist (yay!) and found out Anna had eight cavities (boo!). One in each baby molar, in the spaces where one can't see/brush. I'd like to pass the buck and agree with the dentist that it's (partly) because her teeth are so close together. But frankly I have not pushed the flossing. It's hard enough to brush their teeth. And I figured... they're baby teeth! Come on! I didn't have cavities in my baby teeth. Well, not ones that we saw until the teeth popped out. Curse you, x-rays.

So $2800 to fix. Needless to say I have a second opinion scheduled for this week. What a pain. And so much regret. Maybe we should have sprung for dental insurance. And surely we should have flossed more regularly. On top of that, I'll bet you anything that Isaac's teeth will be rife with cavities, given his shockingly deep molar grooves. Not that we'll ever know, I suppose. Isaac hates dentists. HATES them, thanks to the less than tactful dental hygenists that he observed working on Anna's teeth back in Colorado. This time, in the friendly and patient confines of the pediatric dental office, he showed some improvement. Although he made the dentist sit in the examination chair, while he himself sat in the doctor's chair in my lap, he actually opened just enough to let the dentist count his teeth. $200 for that honour.

As a counter to this staggering financial news, the shock of being here has worn off. I am in Maryland, dear readers. A year ago, Jon was still securely positioned in Colorado, and now I am in a town home with no yard, no family, and no close friends. And it's dark in this town home, people. Why would anyone paint dark tones inside a home with such little natural light? I cannot fathom the reason. But we bought more lamps today. Maybe that will help.

So, it's been a struggle this month. We are homesick. We miss our families and friends. We miss our old life.

And I hesitated to write about this and come across as all complain-y, since both Jon and I are really trying hard to work on contentment and to be aware of where the Lord is leading. I am often reminded that God's timing is not our own, and what really is important can be unexpected or at least against our natural grain.
patience patience contentment.
patience patience contentment.

The best solution for self pity is to list what one is thankful for. Here is a brief list. A few things we thank God every day for:
(1) Jon has a job. So many people don't. This is not to be downplayed.
(2) Our marriage is strong. I was appropriately reminded that this should not be taken for granted.
(3) Our kids are healthy. Yes, they are catching every. single. virus. that comes along, but overall they are healthy and strong.
(4) Our extended family is supportive. We both have amazing families that care about our lives and what's going on, and are willing to provide support and advice.
(5) We've found a church full of people that love the Lord. It's not a perfect church, of course. After all, they let us attend.
(6) It's cheaper to fly to Calgary from Baltimore than Denver. Go figure.
(7) We have a good place to live. Yes, we've invested in more lamps. But it's a good space and cozy and clean and safe.
(8) Today is MLK day. Important for many big reasons. But one small reason was that this extra day gave me a minute to sit down and write out what I am thankful for.