December 31, 2009

Last Day of 2009

So! *clap clap!* What have we learned from the events of the last few days? We've learned that if you're thinking of triumphing over your anxieties about how others view your body and letting people know what you look like, DON'T! May I suggest you instead talk about baking or children or knitting or really ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL?

Today is New Year's Eve, and I GREATLY ENJOY New Year's resolutions. It is a great sadness to me that good ones are so hard to think of. I mention this every year, I think, but one of my favorite resolutions ever was when my friend Firegirl and her husband resolved to choose a scent for their household (they chose vanilla). My favorite of my own resolutions was when I resolved to spend the year mock-playing the stock market to see if at the end of the year I wanted to invest real money.

Last year I resolved to learn how to spell calender calendar and lavendar lavender, and as you can see there was a bit of unsuccess on that front. (Wiseass fifth grader: "Well, maybe you should have TRIED to learn them.")

I also resolved not to press down so hard with my pen, and I DID try, but I think the way I hold my pen thwarts me.

I resolved to USE (rather than HOARD) the pretty, Swistle-colored, CRANE stationary my brother and sister-in-law gave me for Christmas, and I did! I didn't use it for every single care package, but I used it for most of them.

I resolved to consider buying myself the Bath & Body Works lavendar lavender-vanilla condition that no one was buying me as a gift despite MANY HINTS, and that now was available only via eBay, which is such a pain to deal with. I went one step farther: I not only considered it, I bought it.

What did you resolve last year, and how did it turn out? If you post on the topic, leave a link!

Tomorrow: 2010 resolutions, assuming I can think of any.

December 30, 2009

Belated Christmas Card Talk

We are probably not in the mood anymore to talk about Christmas card scoring, but I wanted to show you this card I got from one of my friends:

I think it's the best Mary/baby card I have EVER SEEN. I find it so TOUCHING, and it seems so REAL. It makes me think of Mary as an ACTUAL PERSON who had an ACTUAL BABY and SNIFFED HIS NECK FOLDS.

I think I accidentally gave the impression on my Christmas card scoring posts that I was opposed to RELIGIOUS cards, but HEAVENS NO. It's PREACHY cards that get huge deductions, and preachy letters, and an overuse of the word "blessings," but RELIGIOUSNESS? No. Many people celebrate one of the holidays PRIMARILY AS a religious holiday, so receiving religious cards seems absolutely appropriate. (Preachy, though, there's no excuse.)

I have a lot of fun card-shopping with my mom each year. She's Christian, so she's always on the lookout for good religious cards of the Christian variety, and she's much pickier than I am about it. Very occasionally, I'll weed out one she likes (this year there was one I thought was too pointed in its wish that the recipient have an "open heart"), but generally it's more likely that she's rejecting the ones I find as being too preachy or lofty or trite or theologically shaky. It's a fun quest. There is laughing, and there is reading aloud.

ANYWAY, we've seen and rejected MANY a Mary-and-child card. This year we rejected one on which the poor baby Jesus was buck naked and chilly-looking, with nary a swaddling cloth in sight. Others make the scene look as if it took place within the shining golden gates instead of in a small grubby barn. Others show what my friend calls a "Mary with attitude," where she appears to be SO OVER this whole thing.

This one looks as if it were pre-electrical lighting, and the baby is snuggled up in sufficient swaddling clothes. It's great. It's by Christian Inspirations, and I was going to link to their site (file under "Links You Did Not Expect to See on Swistle's Blog), but their url leads to one of those "placeholder" sites that tries to sell you things it guesses are related to the site you were trying to find, when the site you were trying to find no longer exists. So, sorry, you're stuck with Attitude Mary or Nakers Jesus.

December 29, 2009

Reader Question: Rearing Gracious, Appreciative Children

Ashley writes:
Good morning, dear Swistle. I have browsed your previous posts but haven't found if you've ever touched on the subject of raising kids who are gracious and appreciative. Have you ever written about that? It's on my mind quite a bit lately, I just blogged about it, but I'm wondering your thoughts. I was raised by Yankee parents with solid New England values. I am trying to do the same. So hard to do in today's society when money and 'things' are available all over the place. The new year is going to bring a more simple lifestyle for my children. Anyway, thoughts? I'd love to hear it from you.

Oh, what a PERFECT topic for right after the holidays! YES, I struggle with this too, so I'll be interested to hear what everyone else does about it. I do a few things:

1. I enforce rote thank-yous. That is, if I give them a cup of milk and they don't say thank you I raise my eyebrows and say "Thank you...?" and they say "Thank you." Too often, unfortunately, I'm working on my mental to-do list and not paying attention to whether they say it or not, so I'm inconsistent with this.

2. I make them write thank-you notes for any gifts they didn't unwrap in front of the giver, and also for gifts received at birthday parties (because in that case the note is at least in part for the benefit of the parent of the child who gave the gift). This is more of a torment for me than for them, but I hope the investment will pay off. Young children (able to draw but unable to write) draw pictures and dictate words (HIGHLY COACHED but leaving funny phrasings intact) to me. Middle-ish children (able to write, but only slowly and with difficulty) draw a picture and write 2-short-sentence letters ("Thank you for the ___" followed by something complimentary about the item) with a signature. Older children (able to write book reports in school) learn the Full Grown-Up Thank-You Letter, which starts with a sentence or two NOT about the gift ("We had a great Christmas. I hope you did too."), THEN thanks the giver for the gift with several supporting sentences about why the gift is so great or how it will be used, then ends with "Thank you again!" and a signature.

3. I talk to them before gift-receiving occasions, laying out for them what's expected (saying thank you, faking it if you don't like it, not saying anything if you already have the item) and practicing it with them. I haven't noticed that this lesson always makes it through in the excitement of the gift-receiving itself, but again I'm hoping it's worth the investment over time.

4. When I talk to them as in #3 about what's expected, and I'm telling them about faking it, I explain WHY we fake it. The reason I give them is that we ARE grateful for the effort and thought and love the person put into it, and I go into so much detail on that I sometimes make myself TEAR UP with imaginary gratitude for an imaginary unwanted gift from an imaginary person.

5. I have them choose gifts for others. For Christmas they choose a present for each person who is giving them one. I usually start this at age 3 or 4, although Henry started at 2 and a half because he feels he must be included in ALL THINGS. We talk extensively about What The Other Person Might Like, and about how gift-buying is about thinking about the other person. I toss in a reminder that this is what OTHER people do for THEM, hoping to inspire empathetic gratitude when they open a gift.

Well, but will this teach actual graciousness, actual gratitude? I don't know yet, but I think it's important to teach them to go through the motions in the hopes that the feelings will follow---and that the explanations of the motions will point out to them where the feelings should be.

I'm eager to hear from other people how they teach their kids, or how they were taught themselves.

A Contest-Related Reminder

The Hershey sweepstakes ends on New Year's Eve and I'll be picking a winner for the $100 Visa giftcard. Cookies = yummy. Money in time for holiday bills = nice.

December 28, 2009

Coming Out and Sleeping In

Sahara asked why I chose to come out at all, and although right at this minute my response is "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I DON'T KNOW, IT WAS THE STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER DECIDED TO DOOOOOOOOO!!!!!," my real response is that I was finding myself reluctant to post photos of myself or to meet any of you in person because I was worried the plus-size thing would come as an unpleasant surprise to you. When I realized this was causing me anxiety and preventing me from doing things I wanted to do, I decided OUT WITH IT.

For example, here's the photo I wanted to use to illustrate the post about Rob teaching me to knit. I think it's a super-cute picture but I couldn't use it because then you'd knowwwwwwww:

Plus, then you'd see my unwise choice of hair dye. Sometimes trying to change nature doesn't work out very well.

Now I have a question for you: how late should a child be allowed to sleep in on a day when there's no particular reason to get up? How late did your parents let you sleep in? My eldest, who now qualifies as a "tween" I think, is still in bed at almost lunchtime. This is somehow more painful when the other children have been up since 5:30.

December 27, 2009


Last night was the kind of night where I lay awake making myself feel sad about how awful it would be if for some reason we lost all the photos we had of the children. Productive! Then I fell into a headcold kind of sleep and dreamed that I was arrested and put in jail because I saw a man in his underwear.

One of the best presents I got for Christmas was the gift of anticipation: my brother and sister-in-law gave me a gift certificate for airplane travel. A trip to see Niestle! ...And my brother and sister-in-law and other sister-in-law.

Speaking of which: what relation is my sister-in-law's sister to me? I think the official answer is "She's your sister-in-law's sister," but I think that's kind of BULKY. I suppose I could call her by her NAME. But I'd like to also call her my sister-in-law, as I did in the paragraph above. I don't have any sisters, and it would please me greatly to have some lawfully-contracted sisters. I think "sister" is a very pretty word.

Elizabeth, age 4 and not privy to discussions about family planning, said to me out of the blue the other day, "If you want another girl, you should have one." Me: "...!"

Rob, age 10, after seeing Niestle for the first time this Christmas, said, "I think we should have another baby. I forgot how cute they are."

I think, though, that I have finally come to terms with the idea of not having more babies, to the point that I am looking forward to some aspects of it. It helps that Henry is such a stinker. He is the stinkeriest of all my children. With sparkling eyes and merry mouth he will fling a box of toys at the Christmas tree, climb on the counter and plug in the coffee pot so that it makes a terrible singed smell, step in the cat water, step on an open book so that the pages crinkle and rip out, color on the walls, stuff a handful of someone else's candy into his mouth and run away, sneak into the bathroom and repeatedly flush the toilet, climb into his brother's upper bunk and then fall out.

Sadly for his future character, we all think he's hilarious and adorable.

December 26, 2009

Coming Out

Coming out as a plus-size person is a challenging and upsetting thing to do, with many unpleasant repercussions.

The main problem is that body size and shape are not yet widely considered to be something we're born with. People who are born thin are given credit for it and take credit for it---even if what they consider to be their body-maintaining efforts wouldn't have the same effect on others. People who eat enough to maintain their non-thin weights are considered to be overeating, and the overeating is considered to be why they're non-thin. And because a small percentage of people who were born non-thin have managed with disproportionate and unceasing effort to make limited changes to limited aspects of their shapes, it's widely thought that all people can be born thin if only they cared about their "health." Next, perhaps, doctors will recommend that people who are too tall should have height-loss surgery. People who are too short will be advised to use heel supplementation devices to help them achieve a healthy height. Charts showing healthy height ranges will be posted prominently on doctor's walls. Really we are just concerned about the non-ideally-heighted person's HEALTH.

Another problem is that once a person is known to be plus-sized, his or her opinions about weight, diets, exercise, eating, appearance, etc., are forever and completely dismissed. Does a plus-sized person object to a friend's self-loathing comments? The plus-size person is obviously jealous, and has Body Issues they're projecting onto the friend. Does a plus-sized person think there are goals and achievements in life more worthwhile and laudable than being thin? The plus-sized person is just trying to feel better about herself and her failures to achieve thinness. Does a plus-sized person object to what she considers an offensive and disgusting cultural attitude toward body size? Well, of COURSE she does! Does a plus-sized person consider herself to have healthy eating/exercise habits? She is wrong. Does a plus-sized person feel sick when she sees articles praising people who are responding to social pressures by eating 1100 calories a day and exercising 2 hours a day? Body issues. Jealousy. FATNESS!

So I am painfully aware that by allowing you to know more information about the size and shape I am, I have potentially dramatically changed your feelings about me and the things I have to say. Now when I talk about baking, the baking is why I'm so PLUS-SIZED---even though if I were thin and liked to bake, no one would link the baking with my body size. Now if I complain about cultural problems, I'm jealous/fat/issued. Now if I worry about a friend's exercise and eating habits, I'm jealous/fat/issued. My opinions on such subjects, which would be listened to if my body were a different shape and size, will be used to attack me, my "health," and my mental condition. Only thin people are mentally healthy.

I'm tall. I'm Dutch. I'm light-skinned. I'm straight. I'm female. I'm narrow-shouldered and long-torsoed. I'm plus-sized. These are all characteristics on my DNA. It's upsetting and disturbing that certain characteristics on the DNA, such as sex, sexual orientation, and skin color, have, over time, been used for discriminatory purposes---and that there's very little reason to hope that anything will ever change about weight attitudes.

The upside of coming out as a plus-sized person is that a person's nearest and dearest are not surprised or affected by the news.

[Clarification: I put this in the comment section, too, but it's not likely to be seen there. I'm DEFINITELY NOT saying EITHER that change is not possible OR that lifestyle doesn't contribute to body size---I thought both those things were clear, but clearly not. However, I do think that DNA affects what you start with, what it is possible to end up with, and how much effort it takes to get there. The amount of time and effort it takes me to be non-plus-sized costs me more than it's worth. For another person, the price might be lower, or worth it; this is a way in which we are different.]

December 23, 2009

Free Charity

Pseudostoops is doing her annual charity series: she brings attention to lesser-known charities, and then she makes a donation to that charity of $25, plus an additional 50 cents for each comment received on that post. Normally comments are accepted only on the day of the post, but as you may have noticed the internet is sleeping/shopping/baking this week, so comments are lower than usual and she's still taking comments on Monday's and Tuesday's posts. If you have a few minutes, you could give to some very nice charities for a few clicks and a few comments.

I really like her idea, and I'll do a half-match: I'll send the charities another 25 cents per comment received on her posts. So for each comment you leave, 75 cents goes to charity, and you can do that three times.

Click here to learn about (and get Pseudostoops and me to donate to) to The Women's Treatment Center.

Click here to learn about (and get Pseudostoops and me to donate to) Sweet Miss Giving's.

Click here to learn about (and get Pseudostoops and me to donate to) The Night Ministry.

Tomorrow, she'll be choosing five charities nominated by commenters, and letting us vote which of the five should get a donation of $50.

It's a fun idea and a great way to give money without having to, um, give any money.

Kids and Christmas Shopping

My new no-gap-waistband jeans from Target? GAPPING CONSIDERABLY. Also, they cause me to have to keep hitching up my unders. You know what I need, is those button-elastic waist-adjusters they put in children's jeans. My waist is slimmer than the manufacturers expect, given my hip size. (Isn't that a much nicer way to say my hips are larger than they expect?) And yet I really like the jeans and have worn them three days in a row and I'm going to look for another pair so I'll be able to launder these.

Do you know what I learned from my recent Party Shopping Expedition? Camis are super-cute. I'd been avoiding them because my shoulders are narrow and rounded and my upper arms are plump (this, I think, tends to go with the leetle waist), but a cami under a flannel shirt is cuter than a t-shirt under a flannel shirt, and no shoulders or upper arms need be exposed if they'd rather not.

I'd bought a black cami to go under the pink shirt I wore, and then I got a dark red (almost burgundy) cami that came as an underlayer to a shirt I wore yesterday and probably never again (it's the tunic/maternity style and I felt kind of dumb in it), and after I took off the shirt in frustration I wore the cami with a flannel shirt and I felt kind of SASSY exposing so much CHESTAL REGION. It reminded me of those extremely persuasive Charlie perfume ads from the eighties, comparing Charlie to wearing slinky unders with a grey tailored business suit. ...I'm not sure, now that I think of it, why that would be, but I still do wear Charlie twenty years later so SCORE, marketers!

And also I bought another cami, a white one. Target has camis in a whole bunch of pretty colors in the misses department, but in plus sizes they have only black and white. Listen, I may be DUTCH and a BAKER but that doesn't mean I don't like PRETTY COLORS. And now I am tired of saying cami, so let's think of something else to talk about.

We've been trying various plans for teaching the children that Christmas is a holiday of EXCHANGING gifts, not just RECEIVING them. When I had fewer children, I took them to the store and had them choose something for their grandma, their grandpa, their aunt, their uncle, and their daddy. We did a lot of talking about Thinking About What The Other Person Would Like, but then I let them choose even if I knew it wasn't a good idea---we're talking about a $2 gift from a child, so it's not going to ruin anyone's Christmas if it doesn't hit the mark.

But now there are FIVE children. Five $2 gifts for grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, mother, father---ACK. It's not just the expense, it's the TIME it takes to wrap and unwrap and exclaim over all those gifts, and it's the mountain of small and not-particularly-wanted gifts purchased only to make a point to the child. And that's with no sibling gifts!

So this year I took the kids out and had them pool their resources, buying ONE present for grandma, grandpa, aunt, and uncle, and using the person's wish list to help decide on something in the $10 range. It might miss the mark, but it's ONE thing instead of five. They did still each choose something for their daddy, though, since that seems different.

We'll see if this works better.

December 19, 2009

Meme and Party Update

I took this from Girl in a Boy House:

Eggnog or hot chocolate? I like both, but I don't drink either one very often.

Does Santa wrap the presents or leave them open under the tree? Since we don't believe, we don't receive. We try to make up for it so the kids don't miss out on Christmas, so the only difference is we have to pay for the presents ourselves instead of getting them free from Santa, and the kids thank us for them instead of thanking Santa.

Colored lights on a tree or white? Colored, but I like white ones too.

Do you hang mistletoe? No.

When do you put your decorations up? We don't have a set day for it, but it's between Thanksgiving and, say, the end of the first week of December.

What is your favorite holiday dish? Wurstebroodjes (pigs-in-blankets).

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? ALL of them: we celebrate on Christmas Eve night. I always say it's a holdover from a family tree of ministers and farmers, but I don't actually know that that's the case. Sounds good, though.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? As many ornaments as will fit, none of them matching. A total melee, if that's the word I want. The kids have been doing it the last few years---first because I was pregnant and too tired/queasy to manage it, and now because they like to. I'd rather have everything evenly spaced, but have grown fond of their "dripping with ornaments, especially on the lower half of the tree" effect. I have an aqua-metallic bead garland. No tinsel or tinsel garland. Candy canes. Colored lights.

Snow: love it or hate it? I like it while it's falling, and I like it lying prettily on the ground (but not the roads) for Christmas, but basically I hate it.

Can you ice skate? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA no.

What is your favorite holiday dessert? Spiked sherbet floats.

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Driving around looking at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve night, right before opening presents.

Candy canes: yum or yuck? I don't eat them, but I like them on the tree, and I'll stir a hot drink with one if I think of it.

Favorite Christmas show? Scrooged, and the tape I made of a bunch of holiday-themed episodes of kids' programs one year.

This was, as Nicole promised, surprisingly fun to do, and you should copy if you want to.

Also, I am home from the Christmas party, and I had a shot of vodka beforehand and two large glasses of wine during, and I felt JUST FINE. Still anxious, but able to fake it, and also still able to focus my eyes, so it was a happy medium is what I'm saying.

Also, I realized my clothes were a MAJOR STRESSER, and it seemed like "having nothing but jeans, t-shirts, and a funeral outfit" was a situation that it was okay to remedy, so I went out this morning and bought some clothes, and I was dressed PERFECTLY for what everyone else was wearing, which was like a major psychic triumph. I wore dark, slightly flared jeans, dark grey and silver flats, a black cami, and a so-pink-it-was-almost-red button-down shirt with only a few buttons in the middle buttoned and the sleeves rolled up. I also wore sparkly earrings and my (men's department) belt bracelet and my grandma's cocktail ring.

And I brought wine, and thank you to everyone who suggested it because it was the perfect thing and roughly half the other people who came also brought wine. Then I had some of THEIR wine, and I ate many yummy little foods, and I talked with wallflowers, and now I am thinking we should go to parties every night! Or never again---either way.

December 18, 2009

An Early Start on the Post-Holiday Funk

As usual I thought I'd try to get ahead on Christmas stuff this year, and instead what I accidentally did was get an early start on the Post-Holiday Funk. I feel like, here we are a week until Christmas and I'm not even excited yet. Maybe the whole thing is a bust.

Paul, who has been my faithful and patient companion for fifteen Christmasses, said kindly, "Yes, I know. This is your favorite Christmas carol." My friend Kara Marie, who is getting accustomed to shoring up my teetering psyche, said, "Dude, what's the worst that can happen if you don't feel jolly? You know? The sun will still come up the next day." My mother, whose psyche resembles my own, says, "IS IT TIME TO PANIC??? SHOULD WE CANCEL CHRISTMAS???"

But look! Niestle is here! She is at my parents' house AS I TYPE!

And perhaps I will bake a Christmassy treat today. And I have some Starbucks Winter Blend coffee I found earlier this week at Target on clearance. And Elizabeth just said perkily, "This would be a perfect day for an outing!" so maybe it would be. And there will almost certainly be more cards in the mail.

But oh dear: we have been invited to a holiday party tomorrow, and I don't know if you know this about me but I am NON-SOCIAL. I don't socialize with people unless they are related to me by blood or marriage and are therefore contractually obligated to like me, or else we've known each other so long that I feel like it's their own fault if they didn't know what they were getting into by choosing to be friends with me.

And I WANT to go to this party, because it is hosted by the parents of William's best friend Clarissa and their friendship is such a nice one it's led me to have little pleasant fantasies about Clarissa eventually being the mother of some of my grandchildren, and also I'm so relieved to see that not ALL my children have been afflicted with my non-social genes. But I am all fretful because...well, because I AM. It's the way I AM. And a thousand people could reassure me that it is no big deal and no one is going to bite me and everything is going to be fine and no one cares how I act GEEZ GET A GRIP, and I could even get it in writing from a deity that everything would go well and I would STILL be fretful, and afterward I would still spend hours/days/years feeling like I arrived/left at the wrong time, that I hogged/ignored the hostess and other guests, that I was too loud/quiet, that I neglected some element of etiquette, that I said something dumb, that my children behaved badly, that I took up too much air and space, whatevs.

December 15, 2009

Shopping Post: Elizabeth (Four-Year-Old Girl)

Elizabeth is 4-and-a-half. She likes Hello Kitty and she likes crafts.

My parents got her the 35th Anniversary Hello Kitty Colors pack, which contains five small plush Hello Kittys in five different colors.

My brother and sister-in-law bought her a Hello Kitty Dress Me doll, which I'd given up on because it was out of stock on Amazon, but they found her one. (We'd considered the Ty Hello Kitty as an alternative, but I think the Dress Me is way better---more like a doll in shape.)

We got her some pajamas with kitties on them and a Hello Kitty marker-by-number set, but we want to buy her one more thing. Here are some of the candidates:

This is significantly more than I wanted to spend, but a Hello Kitty dollhouse?? I think she would FAINT. Why are dollhouses SO EXPENSIVE?

Hello Kitty clock. I like it, but I had in mind something less practical.

Would she LOVE a stamp set, or would it mean she'd draw less? Would the alphabet stamp set help her when she wanted to write words but couldn't handle the letters? or would it keep her from continuing to try her letters?

Magnetic dress-up dolls: tons of fun? or tons of pieces lost all over the house? (I'm also considering the boy version for Henry---but why is the boy version costumes instead of outfits?)

December 12, 2009

Shopping Post: Stocking Stuffers

Brooke writes:
O! Swistle! I have a passel of kids, and I am totally strapped for stocking-stuffer ideas. The kids are Boy, 12, and Girls, 10 (steps, not twins) and I am looking for non-lame small things to give to them. These are the Kids Who Have Everything, so it's kind of tough to come up with things that won't get kicked under the bed and forgotten by Epiphany. Not having my own blog, I humbly request the help of you and your internets.

My stocking stuffer strategy is to buy stocking stuff all year long. I'm always seeing crappy little toys on 75% off, so I buy them when I see them and put them in the closet. The best finds come from the party supply section, where I'll often find crappy little toys in 75%-off 6-packs.

As it gets closer to the holiday, I start on food. I sometimes find individual snack packs marked down: after Halloween I got a 20-pack of chips at 50% off, and last month I found Raisinets, Combos, Twizzlers, and gummy bears all in individual packs at 50-75% off. I don't, like, QUEST for such things, but if I see them while shopping I think, "Oh! Maybe for stockings?"

But! I go for flash and short-term and cheap thrills in the stockings, and also my kids are mostly younger than yours, and also we are a little late for all year long at this point. So let's see if we can come up with some workable ideas. (Here's last year's post on stockings, which was more focused on little-kid stuff but the comments section might be useful.)

Normally I would think of DVDs and CDs as gifts rather than stocking stuffers, but sometimes you can find them pretty cheap, and they do make more lasting items than the 6-packs of party trinkets. Is there any TV show they all like? You could get a season and put one disc in each stocking. Do they like similar music and are they good at sharing? Then one CD each is almost like three CDs each.

The shipping on this set of wire puzzles makes me clench my teeth, but if you could find something similar locally you could split the pack up among the stockings.

My kids always want the interesting hand soaps (like the one that puts "squid ink" on your hand), and I'm always saying no. They also want certain fruit scented shampoos I think smell icky, and I'm always getting the ones I find more tolerable. Both items make good stocking stuffers.

Are there snacks/treats they want that you won't get for reasons such as price or nutrition? Perfect for stockings.

A pair of gloves is practical and also kind of fun if they're in fun colors or patterns. Scarfs and hats, same thing. The Children's Place has nice gloves/scarfs/hats for $5 each. I mean, times 3 that adds up, but if they need them anyway it can come out of the clothing budget rather than the holiday budget.

Oh, and cute socks! Well, maybe the boy will not appreciate those. But the girls might.

Rubik's Cubes.

One Christmas ornament each. This is a fun holiday tradition anyway. This year I got my kids initial ornaments at Target: there are silver cursive ones for about $7 each, which I got them a few years ago, but this year I got them some brightly colored plastic ones that were $4 each. I write the year on the ornaments with a permanent marker.

Paperback book. If they all like the same series, you can buy a set and split it up.

At a local craft store I found a TON of good stocking stuff: little $1 kits that make a Christmas ornament, clearance beads, fun craft supplies.
My older two have been dying for this Fifteen puzzle but there was no way I wanted to spend $10 on it, even though it IS super retro cute. But when I was looking for it for this post I found it was marked down to $5 and I bought two of them instantly.

New toothbrush. Not exciting, but fills the stocking and is useful.

More ideas for Brooke?

December 11, 2009

You Don't Know What to Do With That. DO You.

Rob just explained to me how the concept of terminal velocity could assist with shoveling. Paternity: established.

I finished my second Knitted Thing!

I used Lion Brand Homespun yarn, in the colors we had on hand. (We have a huge pile of yarn and needles and things from my mother-in-law's house, and I'd bought the pink and yellow on clearance to practice with.) I found the yarn medium-difficult to work with because it's all kinked and fuzzy, but I liked trying a different yarn. I cast on 50 stitches, which turned out to be kind of a lot for a beginner: it seemed to take FOREVER to make any progress. I'd intended for the 50-stitch side to be the short side of a rectangle, but I ended up making it the long side.

Rob taught me how to do stripes, so that's what I was practicing. I didn't plan how many rows to do each stripe or how many stripes to do of each color. I did pink and added purple, then dropped pink and added blue, then dropped purple and added yellow. Then I felt like I was done, so I stopped. The finished Thing is about 12x17 inches. I am hoping the cat will want to sleep on it, but so far she is shunning it in favor of a piece of bubble wrap. What is it with her and plastic? She's always licking it or sleeping on it.

[Edit: Look what I found when I went out to the living room!

She accepts it!]

Now I'm working on something I hope will be a knit headband. I wear my hair twisted up in a clip, so hats don't work. What I want is a hatlet that will go over one ear, across the top of my head (where I have always pictured a heat-venting hole, like a whale's blowhole, ever since learning as a child that heat is lost through the head), and back over the other ear, tying...somewhere (under the chin seems too bonnetlike, behind the neck seems like it might slip off).

I started it with just a few stitches for near-the-tying-place and then wanted to increase to covering-the-ear width, and Rob and I had learned Knit One Front & Back from the Knit Witch when he needed it for a diagonal-stripe scarf, so I decided to use that. Here's his scarf in progress:

I was glad Rob had been using Knit One Front & Back for awhile so he could watch and advise. (The best part was when I hesitated and he said "Now catch the sheep..." exactly as if tenderly coaching a young child.) At one point I realized I'd increased in the wrong place, and I said, "Oh! But I can just undo it, right?" and he said, "Yes, but, uh...." and I slipped the two stitches off the needle. Then I didn't know what to do next. He said, "Yeah, you don't know what to do with that, do you. Here, give it to me."

December 10, 2009

Shopping Post: DVD Gifts for Kids

I think DVDs make EXCELLENT gifts for children. It is hard to put a price on something that keeps the children occupied the next day when the grown-ups are tired and headachy and have exchanged The Holiday Spirit for the Who Is Going To Clean All This UP Spirit.

Incidentally, I'm glad it worked out for the Grinch, but wouldn't you think the Whos would be a LITTLE pissed, both when they woke up to a stolen Christmas and again when they had to sort out the colossal tangled mess of possessions the Grinch brought back?

My TOP FAVORITE right now is Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. (The one I linked to is a 2-pack with the DVD and also the CD.) I have "I am a Paleontologist" going through my head right now; the kids' favorites are "Electric Car" and "What is a Shooting Star?" There's an updated version of the song that used to go "The sun is a mass of incandescent gas" (it now goes "The sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma"), and the planet song includes Pluto's new non-planet status. I realize these concepts sound kind of ADVANCED for little kids, but the fun songs and accompanying cartoons make it work even for 2-year-old Henry (though it's William who told his third-grade teacher that the list "solid, liquid, and gas" was missing "plasma"). It's pleasant to have on in the background (assuming you like TMBG); the songs are catchy and also sneakily educational. They're like a modern Schoolhouse Rock. Speaking of which...

Schoolhouse Rock. Nostalgic for those of you who got to watch Saturday morning cartoons as a child, still great for those of us who didn't (guess which one I was, NOT THAT I'M BITTER). Songs about the parts of speech, functions of government, and math manage somehow not to be like school---and yet I can now sing the preamble to the Constitution, and just TRY to tell me that's not a useful skill.

Charlie and Lola. I bought the "How Many Minutes Until Christmas?" one for the kids this year because it was on a good deal, and only the first episode on the disc is holiday. What I wish I'd done is let them watch the Christmas one before Christmas and saved the others until after. Well, there are lots of other Charlie & Lola DVDs that don't have any holiday on them. (Incidentally, after I bought it I got an email from Amazon saying I could have 12 issues of US Weekly for $1, and UM YES THANK YOU.)

One of the things I like best about Wall-E is that there is not much talking in it. One of the other things I like is that I seem to be able to watch it again and again, from any point in the movie, without getting sick of it.

We love Wubbzy. I wish there was a CD, because I would totally listen to it in the car, even if the kids weren't with me. The non-music part is fine, if predictable and a little cheezy in the manner of almost all children's shows (cooperation is best! be yourself! lying is bad! if you try, you can do anything!), and it's distracting that Wubbzy is voiced by the same person who voices Emily Elizabeth in the Clifford TV show, but we really. like. Wubbzy around here.

Blue's Clues: Classic Clues is for those of us who ACCEPT Joe but knew STEVE first. I don't know how children can watch and rewatch a detective show that always turns out the same, but they can and they do.

I am pretty sure Paul and I like Peep and the Big Wide World even better than the kids do: when it's on, we're both, like, "SHHHHHHH!!"

I don't know how to explain the appeal of Maisy, a show in which all the characters except the patronizing, over-interested, easily-amused narrator talk as inarticulately as the adults in a Charlie Brown special. The animals coo and gurgle and chuckle and the narrator says, "Oh, you want to play in your POOL? Ha ha! Great idea, Maisy!" But every single one of my five kids was SMITTEN with the show in their toddler years (we had a lot of the Maisy books---maybe that was why they liked the show so much), and I didn't find it too bad to have on in the background.

December 8, 2009

Except She Was More of a Pain in the BUTTULAR Region

I'm SO much more tolerant of my mother-in-law's flaws now that she's dead. It's not like I see them as less flawlike now. It's more like---well, let's say you were having a baby, and you had HORRIBLE labor pain, and you were all, "OMG THIS IS SO MUCH WORSE THAN I'D EVER IMAGINED, DYING DYING DYING!!" And then the baby was born an hour after the first pains began. Well, the pains were still horrible, but they were over so much sooner than expected, and so now they don't seem as bad. It's like that.

December 6, 2009

Shopping Post: Edward

Edward is the most difficult child on my list this year. He's 4-and-a-half, and he likes computers and video games. That's pretty much it: computers and video games. We have a lot of computer aptitude in the family tree so we don't mind this much (THE CHILD, HE IS ONE OF US), but we would like to find SOME things he likes IN ADDITION TO computers and video games. But what? My computery brother liked Capsela and Erector sets, but Edward is too little for that and also hasn't shown much interest in building sets.

Well, I'm going through Amazon and gathering ideas.

LeapFrog Scribble and Write. He hasn't shown much interest in writing, so I'm not sure. But on the other hand, he likes almost anything electronic with buttons. And the nice thing about a bigger family is that if one kid doesn't like something, there are other kids who might: either Elizabeth or Henry might want to play with it.

Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker. This may be too young for him. On the other hand, I can picture him playing with it. And notice the tower on the left is more complicated than the other two.

LeapFrog Leapster Mr. Pencil's Learn to Draw and Write. Again, he hasn't shown much interest in writing, or in drawing either. But he might if they were in a video game.

ThinkFun Chocolate Fix. He likes these ThinkFun games, but my mom already has several at her house for him to play with.

LeapFrog Didj Sonic the Hedgehog. In case we decide not to bother trying to get him to enjoy things other than video games.

Custom name painting. Rachael Rossman made me a Swistle painting, and I like it so much I was fantasizing about having one made for each of the kids. I asked Edward if he thought he'd want one for himself (with his real name, if I can remember it after calling him Edward for so long), on a computer and video game theme. He surprised me by saying YES with enthusiasm, so now this is a frontrunner possibility---assuming I decide about his gift in time for it to be done before Christmas. One thing I like about this idea is that it's not another toy in the house.

December 5, 2009

This is a Test of the Emergency Christmas Card Scoring System

Our first Christmas card arrived and is an excellent test of the Christmas Card Scoring System, but I'm worried about quoting from it because OMG WHAT IF THEY GOOGLE THEIR OWN CHRISTMAS LETTER? But that's not likely, is it? it? But perhaps someone who reads this blog has received the same letter and would know who it was and would tell them. I'm remembering when Sundry's dad found her blog because of searching for the recipe for a drink they had during his visit. Or I might not be remembering the details exactly right (recipe? drink?), but that was the GIST, and I spent some time searching for the post so I could get the details right and I kept getting distracted by the archives and anyway my point is that it's better to be paranoid safe than caught sorry. But I don't think I can help it. [Edit: Here's the Sundry post! Thank you, Robyn!]

Normally we use the C.C.S.S. for reflecting our happiness in receiving cards: scores are not LITERALLY given. But every so often, maybe once or twice a season, we use the C.C.S.S. to demonstrate why a card is so amusingly bad. Perhaps the writer forgets that not everyone wants to hear about her neighbor's gall bladder. Perhaps the writer forgets that a preachy Christmas letter is either preaching to the choir or else preaching to the people who made an informed decision not to join the choir. Perhaps the writer forgets that a parent's love for and interest in his or her own children is notoriously out of proportion to other people's love for and interest in those same children, and that adjectives such as "amazing" and "beautiful" and "incredible" and "brilliant" are best used only with the other parent. Whatever the situation, the card sends its readers into tears of incredulous laughter the vast majority of cards are NOT going to provoke even if they quote a few verses and brag a little about the children.

So. This card. They get +5 for sending a card, and it falls within the reasonable idea of "pretty" and so that's another +3. It includes a letter, which is +5. The letter is not particularly informative or interesting (their children are wonderful!---no details, just an adjective; they took an autumn walk!), but I think it tries, and I tend to award those points for any effort at all, so they can have +2 (out of a possible +3).

In the beginning of the letter they were going to get -3 for saccharine/cheery, but they crossed the line and got +2 instead for mockability.

The best part really was the "blessed/blessings" count, which was funnier and funnier as I kept finding them: eight in the letter proper, including three in one paragraph alone, and THEN, there was a postscript SOLELY for the purpose of offering another blessing. THEN I looked at the CARD, where they'd written it AGAIN. Ten blessings in all, for a grand total of 9 points lost (because the first usage is allowed as a special holiday lenience).

They also used the word "special" three times, and the word "fellowship" once (one use feels like ten). Those aren't on the points list but I found they added to the amusing impact of all the blessings.

There were four paragraphs, and each one contained 1-2 Bible verses (including one that explained what a torment life was but happily it goes by fast---how festive!), each one accompanied by a plug for the Bible: "Read the entire chapter. It's awesome. Of course the entire Bible is amazing." "If you want to read an exciting book this one is it!!" There was also a reminder that all blessings are theirs because they follow The Lord and because our nation follows The Lord also. So that's -5 for preaching/piousness.

One mention of a colon-related illness, but no entertainment/informational value so that's -1.

Let me just put on my math medal for this calculation.....their card gets 2 points. It seems like it should get more points considering how very much I enjoyed it. Perhaps crossing into mockability should be +10 instead of +2.

December 4, 2009

Stuff You Can Win

Oh hi, hi. Fine, fine, and you? The weather, I know! Crazy! ...Oh that? The ad I'm casually leaning up against, petting in a way that calls your attention to it? Pff, it's nothing. Just, you know, MY NAME IN AN AD.

(My name is indeed Kristen. TRUE STORY.)

The ad (this one isn't clickable---it's just a picture) is what they're using for the latest paid review over on the review blog. This one involved softening two pounds of butter. I am going to have to spend my pay on bigger jeans. And more butter.

This paid review, like the last one, involves a drawing for a $100 Visa gift card. If only there was something to spend such a thing on, this time of year. Well, go enter anyway.

I would also like to call your attention to an assortment of Etsy Love posts that include giveaways, in case you are short on gifts:

1. haworth handmade: choice of embroidered wood ornament or embroidered felt rock

2. Small Grapes: six fat quarters of Erin McMorris fabric

3. Relic: choice of coin bracelet or coin earrings

No Peeking

This is the perfect time of year to buy things for oneself. If anyone asks about the packages and bags, look coy and say, "It's a SECRET!"

December 3, 2009

Won't Someone PLEASE Focus on the CHILDREN!

I had a terrible dream last night about Henry, and when I woke up I DID feel relieved it wasn't true, but I also thought nauseatingly of the dream every time I looked at him so it wasn't a "wake up and hug the children" situation, more of a lingering bad/sad feeling.

And I also dreamed I found the perfect cat for us, and so now I'm kind of sad that we can't have that cat.

I've been Very! Busy! recently, and it's making it hard to turn my attention to the children. If they need food or potty help or something practical, it's easier---but if they need to show me a series of magic tricks, or climb on me, or make jokes, or tell me the plot of a TV show, or talk about a series of topics one sentence at a time spaced one minute apart, I'm clenching my teeth and DYING to get back to what I was doing.

I found a trick that helps: I put one hand on the child's back or shoulder, or I hold the child's hand, or pull the child onto my lap, or whatever makes sense for the situation---the gist of it is that I find if I maintain physical contact with the child, it's easier to maintain mental contact.

December 2, 2009

Christmas Card Scoring / Rating System

It is December! As Marie Green twittered yesterday: "Yesterday's mail brought our first Christmas card of the year... And now we're looking down the barrel of a WHOLE MONTH of fun mail!" YES!

Well, and so it is time to review the Christmas Card Scoring System.
The C.C.S.S. (also called the H.C.S.S---Holiday Card Scoring System) is for those of us who look forward all year to receiving cards. It reflects how happy we are to receive them---and how our happiness increases when there are bonus thrill items such as photos and newsletters and prettiness. Lower scores are not bad: ANY Christmas card is a thrill to receive, and the higher scores of other cards don't make lower-scored cards look bad: 5 points is like a grade of A, and anything higher is extra credit.
  • Card received: +5
  • Card received before December 1st: -1
  • Card received after December 25th: -1
  • Card is pretty, and looks nice on wall: +3
  • Card is glittery: +1
  • Card sheds that glitter: -2
  • Card is shiny / has metallic accents: +1
  • Card does not contain card, but only letter, so there is nothing to put up on wall: -5
  • Card is e-card: -5

  • Card includes photo or is photo card: +5
  • More than one photo: +2 each additional photo
  • Photo is non-Christmassy so will look good on fridge all year: +1
  • Photo is Christmassy so increases holiday feeling of card: +1
  • Red-eye causes family to appear possessed by evil Christmas spirit: -1
  • Photo was taken on beach this past summer in summer clothing, so family looks chilly against winter pattern of card: -1
  • Photo includes dogs with glowing eyes who seem poised to eat humans: -1

  • Card includes letter: +5
  • Letter is informative and interesting: +3
  • Letter describes child as "amazing" or "already an avid reader and accomplished Suzuki violinist at age 3!": -3 each
  • Letter is so braggy and saccharine-cheery, I wonder why I associate with these people: -3
  • Letter is so very braggy and saccharine-cheery, it crosses over into comical and becomes fun to read aloud in an unkind tone of voice: +2
  • Letter uses the word "blessed" more than one time: -1 per use (not including first use)
  • Letter is a sermon/evangelism disguised as a Christmas letter, and contains pious spiritual hopes for our country, for our country's leaders, for mankind, and for me personally: -5
  • Letter mentions details of gross surgery/illness: -1 or +1, depending on entertainment value
  • Letter contains thinly-veiled family gossip: +3
  • Letter contains information that should have been told earlier: -2

  • Card includes check: +5
  • Large check: +10
  • Card includes announcement of pregnancy: +10
  • Card from Christmas Card Friends contains surprising news of baby born since last card sent: +10

This year my own card gets:
  • +5 for existing
  • +3 for being pretty
  • +5 for containing a photo
  • +2 for containing an additional photo (a Thanksgiving shot including my parents)
  • +2 for containing an additional photo (a divided photo showing 4 outtakes of the Christmas photo)
  • +1 for being a non-Christmassy photo

Some people will get just the first photo, some will get two, and some will get three---so my card will score 14, 16, or 18 points at most, with of course the 3 points for prettiness depending on the recipient.

(card available on Zazzle)