December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions With No Weight Loss or Exercise OH HOW ELSE CAN PEOPLE IMPROVE???

Okay! Are we ready? It is time.

Last year I resolved to use my reusable bags more often, and even though I totally forgot I had resolved it, I nevertheless did it. I am now at Current Maximum Reusable Bag Usage for me, which means I use reusable bags at the use-percentage that still leaves me with enough plastic bags for my various plastic-bag-needing needs. I carry two fold-small reusable bags in my purse, and I take a big huge sack of reusable bags with me to the grocery store. I don't use a produce bag if I'm buying just one or two of some non-messy produce (like a green pepper) and/or I use reusable produce bags, and I say "Oh, I can just put it in this other bag" if I'm buying an item at the mall that can be put into a bag I already have. To sum up: mold a golden idol in my image.

I resolved last year to think more before buying something. Again, I forgot that the motivation for doing this was a resolution, but I still did SOME of this. I tried to think to myself, "Yes, $1.74 is a great deal for a shirt, but he does not actually NEED any more shirts," and "A whole bunch of $1.74s add up to extra sent to the mortgage" and "Won't it be nice for someone ELSE to find this deal?" and "You know, actually I need to get rid of some of the shirts he already has because there isn't room in the drawer on the rare occasions I get caught up on laundry." On the other hand, it led to several regrets, like when William grew into the same size of shirts and pajamas Rob is wearing, and now they each have half of the supply.

I forgot to drink champagne more often, and in fact I haven't had any since last New Year's Eve. I will see if I can cram a whole year's worth of champagne into this evening.

I resolved last year to at least open my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Dummies to where I'd left off, and I did, and in fact I skimmed to the end, but I didn't find any other gems of insight. So actually I was right when I stopped reading it the first time.

I'd resolved to throw out the $5 giant bottle of lotion I hated and replace it with the $5 giant bottle of lotion I liked, and I did that.

********

Now! Time for 2011 resolutions! And I know this will seem CRAZY, but I'm going to ONCE AGAIN do resolutions that do NOT involve losing weight or exercising more! Not only do those sorts of resolutions tend to be extremely boring (especially when made year after year with no follow-though), there are many, MANY other parts of a human being that can be worked on!


1. I will try to be less of a self-conscious sissy about hair dye. I keep intending to go, say, burgundy, and then thinking, "Oh, wait, but there is a parent-teacher conference coming up!" or "Oh, but it'll be Christmas!" It seems totally reasonable to avoid going a crazy color right before a wedding in which I'm a member of the bridal party, or maybe before a childbirth where I want to look a certain way in new-baby photos, but there are very few other occasions that require this level of burgundy-avoidance.

2. I will try to be more caught up on trimming/editing digital photos. I tend to be three or four months behind, just chronically. And as I regularly think when someone is tailgating me: if you're going at a steady pace regardless, you might as well be at a more pleasant distance. For tailgating, that's FARTHER; for digital photos, that's CLOSER.

3. I'm going to try this fish tank thing enough to see if it's something I want to pursue or if it's something I want to give up.

4. I'm going to act with less inhibition on generous impulses. I'm going to spend less time wringing my hands wondering if my impulse to send someone a present is going to make them feel uncomfortable or obligated, or if a fun giveaway will make some people roll their eyes and write about how stupid they think blog giveaways are. What a stupid waste of hand-wringing.

5. I'm going to find more Bath & Body Works discontinued lavender-vanilla conditioner on eBay and see if it's worth buying. The ones I bought 2 years ago are almost used up. If it's too expensive or hard to find, I will try experiments such as mixing Bath & Body Works lavender-vanilla oil/lotion with unscented conditioner, or using the lotion directly. [Same-day follow-up: I researched on eBay and you would not believe what people think they can charge for this stuff. FORTY-ONE DOLLARS for four TRAVEL SIZE bottles. Bitch, please. So I'm moving right on to experimenting.]

6. I will no doubt add some sixth thing.

7. And probably a seventh thing. It happens every year, so I might as well add place-holders.


I'm also resolving to frame my resolutions and hang them on the wall, but I don't want to put that as one of the resolutions because that is too meta for my current fill-level of champagne.



If you still need some resolutions for your own list, perhaps you would like some of these others I've used in the past?

1. Try ONE cloth pad and see if it's something I like or something I can stop thinking of as "something I want to do someday."

2. Try ONE cloth napkin and see if it's something I like or something I can stop thinking of as "something I want to do someday."

3. Pretend to invest $1000 in the stock market. Choose stocks and follow them as if I'd bought them. At the end of the year, decide whether to invest real money or if it's something I can stop thinking of as "something I want to do someday."

4. Have a baby.

5. Learn to knit, enough to see if it's something I want to pursue or something I can stop thinking of as "something I want to do someday."

6. Try Postcrossing, enough to see if it's something I want to pursue or something I can stop thinking of as "something I want to do someday."

7. Pass along nice things I hear about someone.

8. Use reusable bags more often.


Happy New Year, everybody! I better post this before I start typing embarrassing songs.

December 30, 2010

Idea for Remembering Resolutions

The trouble with resolutions is that I forget all about them. Like, did you know that last year I resolved to pass along good things I hear about people? ME NEITHER! It was a total surprise to me to read that just now!

You know what would be cool, would be to write our resolutions on a piece of paper and frame that paper somewhere we'd see it all the time. Then each year, replace the piece of paper. Not only would this be kind of fun (choosing the frame, decorating the paper), it might, like, WORK.

So I think I'm going to do that, if I can think of any resolutions. I guess I could reuse last year's, since they seem completely fresh and unused.

December 29, 2010

Two Links to Elsewhere

OMG CALENDAR-CHOOSING TIME!! at Milk and Cookies. I love love love choosing a calendar. I have tons of good options but am so reluctant to SETTLE on one---but also getting panicky as they start selling out. [Edit: I made myself CHOOSE ONE ALREADY. I got Sibley birds, a dark horse candidate.] What are you getting this year?

Review blog stuff: review of MasterCard MarketPlace, with a $100 gift card giveaway. That would help with a little holiday debt right there. Just a couple more days left for that one.

December 28, 2010

Bigger Fish Tank

One of my manual tweets from the other day was "We felt our fish were insufficiently happy, so we spent $80."

We had a 2.5-gallon tank, with two tiny minnows in it (the kind that look exactly like goldfish ((to us)) but have a much smaller maximum expected adult size) (not the kind that turn into frogs: that's tadpoles). We went to the pet store to buy new filters for the tank, and we saw they had the 14-gallon tank kit marked from $90 down to $40, and we said, "Oh, okay." Then we bought more stuff to put in it, because there was more room in the new tank for stuff. Plus we needed to buy larger filters.

I'd been planning to get a larger tank (the smaller one was a test, to see if we were a family that would enjoy pet fish), but I'd been balking because the tank KIT (which I wanted so I wouldn't have to make decisions about a filter and a light and a heater and a lid and etc.) is so much more expensive than the plain TANK, which periodically goes on a "$1/gallon" sale (but then requires the filter decision and the heater decision and so forth, which makes me do Panicky Math, and Panicky Math leads to "Never mind! Forget it!").

Crap and also yay: I just went on Amazon to see if they had the tank so I could show you the kit-ness of it, and they don't have the same tank (here's the 10-gallon version, which our 14-gallon tank brags about being "40% larger than," and thank you for doing that DIFFICULT and EXTREMELY USEFUL math, Aqueon!), but they do have the replacement filters for 2/3rds of the SALE price I just paid for them at the pet store. Well, in six months I'm getting a GREAT DEAL on replacement filters, MARK MY WORDS.

So we brought the new tank home, and the first step was finding a new place for the fish tank to live: a 2.5-gallon tank holds about 20 pounds of water so it can live on a book shelf, but a 14-gallon tank is about 112 pounds of water and needs something I would let someone Rob's size JUMP on). We're using a heavy 1970s dark pine cabinet we bought at Goodwill for 1/4th the price of an on-sale fish tank kit, back when we were in the first half of our 20s.

Then it was a matter of moving the fish. I don't know if you have ever done fish, but they are a bit tricky. They live in WATER, you see. Transferring them from one water to another water (especially when the first water is in a nice nitrogen cycle and the new water is not) is risky and difficult. It took a couple of days, but now they are in their new tank:

You cannot see the fish in this picture.
This is because one of them is in the "broken jug" and the other is behind a plant.
It is not because I am just pretending to have pet fish.
Of what use would that be?


And we are on Dead Fish watch. We want to add more fish now that we have room, and we are thinking we might even use the heater so we can add something other than minnows or goldfish, but we need to wait awhile to make sure this new water is working out. (I feel nervous about really filling it all the way to the top the way the instructions say. I also feel nervous about not following instructions. We'll see what conquers what.)

Notice that our new tank has, along with a new "broken jug" and the old turret and a couple of new fake plants, a T-rex. Henry wanted to do a whole dinosaur theme (there was also a stegosaurus and some other dinosaur, plus two dinosaur skeletons), but I am not yet sure about Tank Decor and didn't want to commit to dinosaurs.

Now, I have a question for those of you who have experience with fish. No, two questions. No, THREE questions:

1. Should I get them some taller plants?

2. If we do start using the filter and branching out into freshwater fish, what's a good type to add first?

3. Really? Fill it all the way to the bottom of the black rim?

December 27, 2010

Steam-Powered Twitter

Because of a GOOD thing (upgrading a computer Paul called "steam-powered"), I was without computer/internet for a day. It was like a power outage: I kept thinking, "Well, since I can't work on blogs, I'll get caught up on email....oh. Well, I'll set up the fish tank. Hm, I'll go Google whether it's bad to put them close the the television...oh." And I had to do Twitter MANUALLY:

(click it to still be unable to read my handwriting, but larger)

December 25, 2010

Favorite Parts of Christmas

My family celebrates on Christmas Eve night (I'm not sure if this is from the Dutch ancestry or the minister ancestry), so we are already relaxing and enjoying all our presents while you suckers are trying to get a shower and a cup of coffee in the midst of the chaos. My favorite parts of Christmas:

Cards around the doorway between living room and kitchen.



OMG UNDERWEAR IN STOCKING!!!
MOST HILARIOUS THING EVER!!!


Heading out for annual Christmas lights drive in pajamas.



Children reading new books, playing new video games,
looking at new coloring books,
while Mother has a latte and Cheetos for breakfast.



Non-favorite part: slipping on a step and hitting several subsequent steps with my buttular region SO HARD I have a bruise the size of a LARGE YAM. This is the only time I have ever been tempted to post a picture of my butt on the internet, because I would really love to get some big sympathy for this. I asked Paul if he wanted to see it and he was like "OH-kay! *waggling eyebrows"* and then he totally divebombed into "OOOOOO, GEEZ, AGGGG!!" I am not kidding when I say I can't SIT, not because sitting is so painful (though it kind of is) but because getting UP again is too painful. I am kneeling on my sideways computer chair, elbows resting on the armrest, hunched over the keyboard like a butt-injured Christmas vulture.

December 24, 2010

Winter Wonderland

My before-I-even-knew-what-blogging-WAS friend Firegirl was asking about favorite Christmas songs and I was trying to choose one (fail), and that reminded me of how one of my favorites is a song I didn't used to like at all. I used to think Winter Wonderland was an extremely boring song, and also lame, but then I bought one of those Scholastic multi-book packs of Christmas books and one of them was Winter Wonderland, which was a book to SING. And this was when I had two children, and I used to read to them before bed (now Paul does reading duty), and I let each of them choose one book and then I'd read both books to both of them, and anyway my point here is that they kept choosing that Winter Wonderland book over and over, and I realized it was a very pleasing song to sing and right in my range. But more importantly, I realized it was a song about an ENGAGEMENT. I'd been picturing children outside making a snowman and calling it Parson Brown, but it's NOT children, it's a couple! And they go on a walk, and they start joking around about how the snowman is asking them if they're married and they say no but that he can do the job when he's in town. MAD FLIRTY!! And then later on they're all snuggled up by the fire and they "face unafraid the plans that we made" while out walking! So the joking around is what helps them to discuss it for reals!! Isn't that ROMANTIC?? So anyway, now I love the song. Except the verses about the circus clown and the Eskimo way, because those are totally not on topic.

December 22, 2010

Link

Normally I try to make my review-contract-required posts a little more interesting so it's not JUST a link to my review blog, but this one is all rush-rush so there isn't time: Review of MasterCard Marketplace, with a $100 gift card giveaway.

Clanging Chimes of Doom

I have Do They Know It's Christmas? stuck in my head, and you're welcome. (You should watch it if only to admire Hottt 1984 Era Sting, who is looking pretty cute in that video especially compared to the boys who were under the influence not only of Earnest Face but also of certain unfortunate hair trends.)



I remember hearing this song in...let's see, how old was I? It came out when I was in middle school, but I don't remember hearing it until high school: I went to a religious middle school where even Christian rock was frowned upon, and when I say "frowned upon" I mean "actively campaigned against by the teachers, with guest lectures about how we could tell the devil was directly involved by listening to the particular type of beat." (I listed to my Michael W. Smith album anyway, which, now that I've thought of this, finally gives me a good answer to the question about why I ended up Leaving the Flock. "It was the beat, the beat, the crazy devil-worshiping BEAT of 'Old Enough to Know'!!)

So anyway, I heard "Do They Know It's Christmas?" when I was at the public high school, probably while walking to school listening to my WALKMAN, which played CASSETTES I made by recording songs off the radio. And I remember hearing "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime..." and thinking, "Yeah, but....I mean, snow isn't really the issue, is it? There are areas of the United States that don't get snow at Christmastime either. And actually, for people who don't even have enough clothes and food, that's probably GOOD to not have snow and cold and ice." I also remember trying to understand why the singers seemed to want to know the answer to the question of the title. Do they..."know" it's Christmas? Why? Would that make a difference? Should we...tell them? Like, just in case? (None of this stopped me from listening to it 40 billion times.)

As an adult I get what they were trying to do (i.e., "Get in on the '80s Group Empathy Rock trend"), but "the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom" seems comically over-the-top (why would impoverished people spend money on clanging chimes of doom?), and I'm not sure the songwriter's suggestion to the listener (i.e., thanking God it's them instead of you) will solve the problem as it's been presented. The second solution, "Feed the world," is somewhat better, but lacks instructions for practical application: okay, I have some food, I'm standing in the world....now what?

Such a perplexing song. To hear it you'd think the main issues in Africa (which, incidentally, is kind of a big place, and my geography knowledge has always been a little shaky but I'll bet it isn't COMPLETELY without rain or rivers ANYWHERE) were (1) They don't get snow at Christmastime, (2) They don't know it's Christmas, and (3) Bells of doom keep clanging.

December 20, 2010

Disney Surprise Package

May I suggest that if Shelly Overlook has a contest, you enter? She said "gift from Disney World" and I pictured...key ring? Instead, look:



RIGHT?? There is:

1. a 2010 Minnie Mouse holiday pin that looks like an ornament (which I plan to use as an ACTUAL ornament---how's THAT for mind-twisting?)

2. a bag of Goofy sour gummy worms

3. a TAPESTRY THROW FTLOG

4. and, my favorite, a green handbag with a bow on it, and I wish you could see it with the lining, which is purple argyle (you can see a glimpse of the purple color peeking out under the bow) <3 <3 <3


You are so jealous right now.

Misc., and Not "Monday Misc." Because in General I Dislike Day-of-Week Alliteration

PSA time. It seems there are two major misconceptions about the flu vaccine:

1. That it prevents all strains of flu, and without fail. (It's a concoction based on the strains predicted most likely to appear that year, and the vaccine won't work for every single person even if the predicted flu strains are correct.)

2. That it prevents "stomach flu." ("The flu," short for influenza, is respiratory. "Stomach flu" is not influenza at all, so the vaccine doesn't prevent it. I don't know why it's called flu, because it isn't.)

Now you know. *musical trill*

********

New gift idea posts at Milk and Cookies:

1. Non-toy gift ideas for children.

2. Gift ideas for 9-12-year-old boys. I mean, are they impossible to buy for OR WHAT?

********

My littler children had gingerbread houses and milk for breakfast. WHAT?

December 18, 2010

New Coat Report

I love my new coat. I love my new coat SO MUCH. I love my new coat SO MUCH that I am poised to do an uncompensated infomercial for it, right here and right now.

My old winter coat is a Perfectly Good Coat. It's from L.L. Bean and I got it on one of their really good clearances a number of years ago. It is a color of green I really like (the bright, leafy color---I think the color name was in fact "leaf"). It's polyester-fill or whatever, and the outer surface is a nice-feeling one. But it is really more of a Late Fall Coat. At the bus stop every morning I freeze my bees.

Perhaps you have noticed that a good warm winter coat is EXPENSIVE. And that this is not a good time of year for a big cash outlay. And I totally hear you, and so if you don't have the money to spend right now, perhaps you should look away because I am about to say something like "MORTGAGE YOUR HOME AND RENT OUT YOUR CHILDREN TO BUY THIS COAT," and that would be SO disheartening if you'd already mortgaged your home and rented out your children for some OTHER purchase.

Anyway, I felt discouraged by the project of finding a coat, but I finally hit my coldness limit. I went to Lands' End because I had a coupon, which I will give to you in the hopes that it will work (are these one-time use? here's one I haven't used: promotion code SANTA40 and pin #4517, but you can also just go to LandsEnd.com and I think you'll see the offer in a big box on the home page), for 40% off one item, plus free shipping. And here was my basic search process: click Women's, click Plus-Size, click Outerwear, click Down. I knew I wanted down instead of polyester this time, because one of the kids has a down jacket ($23 on clearance at Marshalls) and I'm jealous every time I put it on him.

Then I hit a snag in my search process because there were still a lot of options. I dithered around awhile. I figured out gradually that "jacket" means hip-length, "parka" means it covers the buttular region, and "long" means "I will feel trapped, like in a nightgown." And then I shopped by color, because I look like the wrath of Target in black and brown, and white is way too optimistic, and grey is a good color on me but also makes me feel like it isn't much fun to be spending so much money on a new coat. That brought me down to two choices, and I showed them to Paul and he made a little scoffing noise and said "Definitely that one. The other one is just 'a coat,' but this one is cute." That's right: I got a man to give a considered opinion about a piece of women's clothing. Plus, he chose the significantly more expensive one.

Here it is, My Coat:

(this is a screenshot yoinked right from Lands' End,
and that link I just made goes directly to that product)

(click the picture to see it a little bigger,
or click the link to be able to zoom in and see other views and so forth)



(If you read me in a feed reader, you should really click through to see how close the coat color is to the color of my blog background.)

Here are the things that worried me, before ordering:

1. I haaaaaaaate fake fur. (I don't mean I hate it on OTHER PEOPLE: for example, I think it's quite cute on the model. I mean I hate it on ME.) I think it's ugly: ugly color, ugly texture, not good with my coloring, gets all matted and icky, looks weird with my glasses. Plus it tickles and bothers me. But the description said the hood was removable, and I'm not accustomed to wearing a hood anyway so that should be fine.

2. Sometimes L.L. Bean and Lands' End clothing is a little BOXY for me---like it's made for a different body type. Maybe the cut wouldn't flatter. But it LOOKED good: the waist seems to nip in.

3. I am QUITE pear-shaped, and so an item of clothing that is supposed to cover both the upper and lower pear regions doesn't always work: it can be loose to the point of falling OFF me on top and be too tight down below. I wanted the parka length, but would it be too snug in the Lower Pear Quadrant?

4. I loved the color on the model, but would I be sorry I hadn't gone for something more subdued and practical?


The coat arrived yesterday and I put it on and there is nothing but joy and love and little ladybugs flitting around singing songs of warmth and etc.

1. I had not sufficiently read the description: the fake fur is itself also removable. (If you read the description yourself, you are going to wonder how I possibly missed it, since it's mentioned about three times. My only excuse is that I was stressed about coat selection, and also I kept thinking, "Yeah, yeah, I know the hood is removable"---without realizing it was talking about the TRIM.) So I have a hood, which is wonnnnnnnnderful and how was I surviving without a hood before? and with NO FAKE FUR. I wish I'd put this as #4 because it was the last thing I discovered and so the correct order of events is FIRST glorying in the coat and even coming to terms with the fake fur, and THEN thinking, "Hey, what is this little....is this a ZIPPER???" and having the heavens open up and the ladybugs start their joyous flitting.

2. The fit is GREAT. I think it's quite flattering---as flattering as a warm winter coat can be, anyway. I feel CUTE. And sometimes a winter coat can make me feel HUGE, so this is a very pleasant feeling.

3. Lower Pear Quadrant worries were unfounded: not too snug in the buttular region, and not too big on top, either. I suspect this coat might in fact be designed for Pears.

4. THE COLOR, I LOVE THE COLOR SO MUCH. I'm so glad I went for it even though it's a little Dramatic. I did the same with my previous coat (bought the bright leaf-green even though it seemed a bit STAND-OUT) and was happy with it every time I wore it, and it's the same with this coat. Plus, how cute is it going to look with my hot-pink gloves?? SO CUTE!!

Additional note: 5. I was worried when I first took it out of the box because it seemed so THIN and LIGHT compared with my polyester coat. But I wore it to the bus stop and it was so warmmmmmmmmmmm. I'd forgotten my gloves but my hands were totally warm just in the pockets, which are lined with this super-soft comfy fleecey stuff. The neck of the coat comes up to scarf-height. I stood there thinking, "This is such a light coat, and yet I am not even FEELING this freezing breeze!!"


Let us turn to the subject of price. Ack, right? I have never spent $139.50 on a coat (they have it in non-plus-size, too, for $129.50). And I didn't this time, either, because I had the 40% off coupon. Still, it was $83.70 ($77.70 for non-plus-size), and that is not change you find in the couch. But right now I am VERY HAPPY with that price.

[Edit: It seems to be sold out in every color but ivory now, but there are more colors in the jacket-length.]

December 17, 2010

Tassimo Giveaway Update

It is ON: here's the Tassimo review, with Tassimo giveaway. The Tassimo peeps say that if we do this FAST, they might be able to ship the winner's Tassimo by Christmas, so I'll take entries until this Sunday at 5:00 p.m. U.S. Pacific, so the winner's address can be ready for Monday morning. WHEEEEEE!!! Free Tassimo!!!! (No, this is not why I'm up at 4:30 in the morning WHY DO YOU ASK.)

(Comment on the entry linked to above, not on this one.)

December 16, 2010

Thursday, and a Giveway Heads-Up

So. Now I have a UTI, PMS, and a cold, AND the "check engine" light is on in the minivan, AND something is amiss with Rob's orthodontic appliance. You would think I would be a bit cranky. And yet I am not, and it's because I have had a lot--A LOT--of coffee: yesterday a Tassimo arrived for me to review, and I am data-collecting with all my might. Later my mom is coming over so we can try the fancy kind that makes coffee AND frothy milk. AND I will have a Tassimo to give away, and I've emailed Tassimo to find out if there's any way it can be done by Christmas, so anyway my adrenaline about that and my caffeine content are both high. And also, this might be a poor time to let posts languish in your feed reader, because if I hear back that they CAN ship it in time for Christmas, I'll be doing the review FAST with a very short giveaway-entry time. I'll be sure to mention it here and also on Twitter.

In the meantime, Pseudostoops continues her charity-a-day with a post about The Women's Treatment Center. If you click through and leave a comment, she'll increase her donation by another 50 cents and you get to feel like you did something good.

December 15, 2010

Gift Boxes

I find these Santa gift boxes disturbing. Very disturbing. Possibly disturbing enough to buy.

Open up Santa's belt to find your special gift.

December 14, 2010

Gingerbread Houses and School Supplies and Laundry and Cards and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I am having a drops IN the bucket! IN!! kind of day. It started pretty well, because Paul had a little extra time before work and used it to CLEAN UP THE DISHES. I'll just let that soak in for a minute. (1) He had a little extra time before work. (2) So he used it to clean up the dishes. I KNOW.

ANYWAY. Then I was looking at the calendar, and I made the mistake of looking at the days ahead (NEVER LOOK AT THE DAYS AHEAD) and it was like looking down a long corridor of obligations. Ice cream cones to school with Edward! Graham crackers with Elizabeth! Graham crackers and a thing of frosting and a foil-covered 12x12 piece of cardboard with Rob! Send in mugs for a party, but not breakable ones! Put out gift for mail carrier! Last day to send cards to arrive by Christmas!

And then my eye fell naturally on my Holiday Card Station at the dining room table. I did some cards last weekend, but there are still many, many more to go.

And then my eye fell on the supplies for the gingerbread houses, and OMG when are we going to do those?

And then things went downhill from there. Walking into the living room I realized we should probably throw out the carpet rather than try to vacuum the glitter out of it. And the laundry has slipped AGAIN---it's like I can only make myself work on it if it's at Code Red levels and children are telling me half an hour before school that they have no pants. And I have so many posts to work on. And I'm behind on email to such an extent, even the flagged ones are getting scrolled out of view and forgotten. And there are piles of clutter everywhere, INSURMOUNTABLE PILES OF CLUTTER, and dust and dirt and crumbs and small toys under all the furniture, and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Well.

It didn't SEEM like it would help, but I TRIED working on some of these things. First I did a baby name post, one that really needed to be done and was also fun because it involved names for a Christmas baby. I told the children that the fewer times they interrupted me as I worked on this, the sooner we could build gingerbread houses---and that if they interrupted me too many times, I would get too frustrated to be able to work on houses. So they interrupted me only maybe 10 times in half an hour, what good children.

As an aside, I came up with a new technique for, I hope, reducing interruptions: when I have to get up to help one child, I ask if anyone else has anything they need. Sometimes this means I avoid the extreme frustration of jusssst sitting back down before another child asks me for something; sometimes this means I am even MORE frustrated because it happens ANYWAY.

So I finished my post, I brought up the load of laundry from the dryer so I'd see it later and remember to fold it, and I started the washer re-washing the load of laundry that had gotten stale. And the kids and I assembled the gingerbread houses. And OH, what a massive relief after last time! In fact, I was GLAD for last time (and said so to the children), because if we'd started out doing it the way we did it this time, I would have been complaining about how messy and sticky and tricky it was, but since we tried it the OTHER way first, THIS time I was practically CHORTLING at how EASY and AWESOME and LIKE MAGIC it was. Thanks go to Barb @ getupandplay for her idea of using molten sugar (put granulated sugar in a pan and stir it over medium-high heat until it turns into super-hot syrup; try not to burn it like I did; return it to low heat when it gets too thick to use), and to Carmen for mentioning on Twitter that it WORKED.


Dip the cracker edges into the pan of extremely hot sugar,
then stick them together and hold them in place
for a few seconds.


Village!


It took a little practice to get the sugar right: first too thin, then too thick as it cooled, then too thin when I re-heated it. You can see the "too thin" (drips) on some of the houses (the ones I put in FRONT, nice going). But they STUCK TOGETHER and THAT is the important part! Also, next time this'll be way easier: I won't burn the sugar to begin with (by not knowing when to STOP melting it), and then I'll put it on low heat so it won't thicken.

We used two full boxes of graham crackers (only a few broken ones in the box this time, fortunately), and may I recommend NOT using low-fat, despite the fact that I have nowhere near enough data here for a statistical analysis and might have just gotten a box the stockboy dropped? We first used a box of regular ones, and then used the box of low-fat ones I'd bought because the store had no more regular ones, and there was a HUGE difference. With the regular ones, we didn't have a single cracker break during the construction process; with the low-fat ones, ten or so broke while I was holding structures together waiting for them to cool, and that could have been QUITE FRUSTRATING if I hadn't been bolstered by many recent successes.

Then I told the children that we would "wait for the houses to dry" (they don't really need waiting when you make them like this, but I felt project-with-children'd out), and that we'd decorate them another day, and I folded the laundry, and I put the now-done washer load into the dryer and started a new washer load. I also picked up the letter magnet that has been sitting by the cats' water dish for long enough to have acquired a film of stickiness and fuzz, and I washed it off and put it on the fridge.

Then I put on the dumbest cartoon I have EVER SEEN (Mario Bros.) for the kids, wrote this post, and next I think I will write a few cards before the mail comes, even if it's just two cards. Drops. IN.

[Follow-up: This high of getting! things! done! lasted about 5 minutes, until I went to the kitchen to make the kids' lunch and had to first put dishes into the dishwasher because gingerbread houses were on my work counter and breakfast dishes were on the other counter, and then I found that Paul had put nearly-clean pans (like, just needed a quick swish) and my metal-trimmed (not dishwasher-safe) china into the dishwasher, and then I saw the empty juice pitcher and realized we needed juice before kindergarten, and then made the juice and found that Edward had never taken his juice bottle out of his backpack the day before which meant I also hadn't yet gone through his folder, and then I got out the pretzel bag and found it had been put away with seriously 2.5 pretzels in it and I had to get a new bag from the basement, and we had no cups for lunch because they are all in the dishwasher, and then Henry was PICKING UP the gingerbread houses and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA]

December 13, 2010

GPMA

Every year in December, Pseudostoops picks a week, chooses one local awesome charity for each day of that week, and donates $20 to each charity, plus an additional 50 cents for each comment she receives on that charity's post. I'm not sure I'm explaining this well, but the upshot is that if you comment on that day's post, the charity featured in that post gets 50 more cents.

Plus, one of your commenting options (you can even just say "comment" or "hi") is to mention one of your own favorite charities. At the end of the week, Pseudostoops takes five of THOSE charities, puts them in a poll, and gives $50 to the one that gets the most votes. If you love a local charity, this is a great way to get them some attention. (It doesn't HAVE to be local, though.)

I've found it surprisingly interesting to read about the different kinds of work being done by the different charities. I also enjoy picturing an unexpectedly large number of Swistle readers descending on Pseudostoops's posts, until Pseudostoops begs for mercy. Heh.

Today's charity is The Greater Chicago Food Depository: go comment on the post and then feel pleased about your charitable work.

December 12, 2010

A Handful of Accidentally-Discovered Toy Deals, Mostly (But Not All) of the Presumptuously Girlish Variety

This year I feel less frantic to not! miss! any! DEALS! than in previous years. Nevertheless, I found a rich vein of them accidentally, while shopping for Elizabeth. I don't know how long the prices will be reduced---they just suddenly appeared that way. Here are the things I bought---some for Christmas this year, some for upcoming birthdays, some for the gift shelf for parties the kids attend in the future, and some to put in charity toy collection boxes (all photos from Amazon.com):

Orb Factory Stick 'n' Style Blinglets, $7.99 down from $19.99. Elizabeth loves (1) crafts and (2) jewelery and (3) fashion. Perfect.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics: Jewels, $7.99 down from $16.99. Elizabeth and I have done several sets of these sticky mosaics, and the Jewels set was by far my favorite: I liked the pictures better, and also there was more "forming the picture out of the mosaic pieces" and less "filling in with colors pre-printed on the background" than the other sets. And these don't go on sale: I keep them in my cart so I can see if they DO (which is how I found this deal), and all year they've gone down no more than a dollar. At $7.99, I bought two to give as future birthday party gifts: I love how they're crafts, but not MESSY. And unlike many children's craft kits, where I would rather give the child MONEY than help them work on the craft, I find peeling and sticking the mosaic pieces soothing. Please remember this when I am in whatever residential living situation is in my future.

RoomMates Peel and Stick Dinosaur Wall Stickers, $10.08 down from $12.99. These were not such an amazing deal, but I wanted to show them to you anyway. I love wall stickers, especially for decorating the rooms of children with rapidly-changing interests, and these are for Henry, who likes his dinosaurs REALISTIC, not CARTOONY.


Melissa and Doug Animal Stamp Set, $7.99 down from $14.99. I ordered two of these for future party gifts. I fret sometimes about giving a gift that seems too presumptuously girlish or boyish, but this works for girls and boys alike. And the ink is washable. I repeat: THE INK IS WASHABLE. We have another of these sets and Henry stamped them all over his skin and the wall and the table and the box fan---no big deal.


Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics Jewelry Box, $9.99 down from $14.99. Elizabeth is already getting this as a gift this year from someone else, but when it went on sale I bought another for a toy collection box or for her to bring as a future party gift.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics Flower Power, $6.99 down from $16.99. (Hello. Have I mentioned that Elizabeth and I are fans of Sticky Mosaics?) I was wondering why I bought two of these when I like them less than the Jewels one, but then I remembered it's because I got one for Elizabeth and one for a party gift or toy donation.


Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics Heart Box, $6.99 down from $14.99. STICKY MOSAICS = TL4EVA.

PSA: How to Make Surnames Plural When Addressing and Signing Holiday Cards

Most of us have to make other people's surnames plural only once a year, when we address and sign holiday cards. Most of us fail pitifully, even with our OWN surnames, so it is fortunate it doesn't matter one bit in any sort of "will cause children to starve" or "will worsen the state of the environment/economy" sense. But if you would LIKE to get it right, I am here to help.

Here is my first and best technique: AVOIDANCE. If you write it "The _____ family," you can put their surname unaltered where the line is and be done with it: "The Sampson family." "The James family." "The Moss family." And of course you could also write "Jim, Melanie, Caden, Olivia, and Isabella Sampson" and be done with it that way, too, but goodness, that is a lot of writing, and also sometimes I am not entirely sure I have all the first names straight.

If you choose to avoid avoidance, we will begin with the easiest: straightforward surnames such as Sampson. If you want to address the envelope to the entire household of Sampsons, it's a simple plural like cat/cats and you add S at the end: "The Sampsons."
  • NOT: The Sampson's, which makes no sense.
  • NOT: The Sampsons', which is a structure that would need to be followed by a word telling us what it is they are the owners of, such as a boat or a cat. You might be able to justify writing it The Sampsons' if you argued that "Residence" was implied, but I'd save that iffy excuse for if you mess it up accidentally.

Mid-level difficulty next: surnames ending in S, such as James. If you want to address the envelope to the entire household of Jameses, it's the regular plural for words ending in S, like bus/buses: you add ES, and it's "The Jameses."
  • NOT: The James', which makes no sense.
  • NOT: The Jameses'; see The Sampsons', above.
  • NOT: The Jamesses.

Highest difficulty last: surnames ending in double-S, such as Moss. This is the same as surnames ending in S, but the doubleness of the S throws people off: it's "The Mosses," just exactly as with dress/dresses and kiss/kisses.
  • NOT: The Moss', which makes no sense.
  • NOT: The Mosses'; see The Sampsons', above.


If you are feeling confused, you can take comfort in the fact that you are obviously in the majority. If you want it boiled down to something simpler, remember this one thing: NO APOSTROPHES. Got it? NO APOSTROPHES. Not in your own name, either: sign it "With warm holiday wishes from the Jameses," not "the James's" or "the James' " or "the Jameses'," or, heaven help us, "The Jame's." Why? Because NO APOSTROPHES, that's why. We are only making things PLURAL (for more than one person in the household), NOT contracting words or discussing who owns what.

But again, my choice is addressing it to "The James family" and signing it "The Thistle family." Then it's no apostrophes AND no plurals. This also helped me with a former acquaintance whose family's surname was Spear, and who got very pissy each year when cards arrived addressed to "The Spears" (which is CORRECT) and she would say, "It's SPEAR, it's SPEAR, it's not like Britney!!" So I addressed my card to "The Spear family" and therefore did not get rebuked for being RIGHT.

December 11, 2010

MP3 Player Questions From Someone Who Doesn't Know Anything About It

Do you want to help me choose an MP3 player for Rob for Christmas? Normally I make my dad help me with all such decisions, but he's an Apple man through and through and iPods are more than I want to spend. Normally we aim for $40 per child, but Rob is getting very difficult to buy for as he gets older, and the other kids won't have any idea what an MP3 player costs, so we're willing to go higher. But not, like, $100...I hope. I guess what I have in mind is...$50-75?

So my first question is: Does a decent MP3 player exist in that price range? And by "decent" I mean "won't break before a 12-year-old breaks or loses it"?

And my second question is: If so, can it use iTunes MP3s? Because that's where I have my MP3s, but iTunes is Apple, so...does that work if the MP3 player is not Apple?

And my third question is: Will it let the user find and select an individual song to play? Because that feature would not be something I'D care about, but it's important to Rob.

KTHANX. Because like everyone else I have my own set of strengths, but "choosing electronic equipment" is not even in the same universe as those strengths.

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New gift ideas post at Milk and Cookies: Gift ideas for an elderly person you don't know very well.

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Review blog stuff:

Smarty Ants and Phonics Reading Pup, through December 17th, so this is the last reminder. The giveaway is for your own Phonics Reading Pup ($30) plus a year's subscription to the Smarty Pants reading game ($50) plus a Visa gift card ($100), and the entry comment is an easy one: saying which of the two Pups you like better.

December 9, 2010

Gingerbread! House! Adventure! FAIL

I don't think I have EVER DONE anything as frustrating as trying to build graham cracker gingerbread houses. EVER. I'd thought it would be pretty easy, because the kids have done it in school and it seems like with that kind of adult/child ratio it MUST be a pretty easy project. And maybe it IS if you do it right, but that is NOT HOW IT WENT DOWN.

Just for starters, half the graham crackers in the box were broken. (Okay, fine, it was more like a fourth, but I'm CRABBY and it FELT like half.) Several others broke while we were trying to assemble the houses. (Fine: ONE broke.) I'd spent $3 to get a box of the brand-name ones because the school sign-up sheet emphasized that it was important to use the brand-name ones.

THEN, I got a royal icing recipe online, and even went out and bought pasteurized egg whites for it ($1.89 per cup---ack), and the recipe was a TOTAL FLOP. It was the consistency of...I'm not sure what it was the consistency of, but I could pour it, and when I tried to use it as glue (oh, that's it: it was the consistency of Elmer's glue), it just ran and dripped all over the place. The parts that DID stick together kept falling apart.

I believe I've mentioned before that I've got a flash temper: I get too mad, too fast. As I've pointed out to the children in our discussions about how everyone has character flaws to work on, the upside to this particular character flaw is that I also get over it fast. (I still remember with a cringe my grandfather's temper, which was silent and simmering and wouldn't be over until he apparently reset in his sleep.) But the downside is that when things are frustrating, I don't, um, cope well. Nor is my non-coping particularly, um, silent.

So then I took a little break and, in thinking over how things had gone, realized that in addition to needing to find a workable way to do the houses since otherwise it would be too disappointing to the children, I needed to fix how things had gone with our first attempt, to avoid leaving them with the Happy Holiday Memory of "the time we were going to make gingerbread houses but then mom went into a frustrated rage and called the whole thing off like a JERK."

In years of coping with temper, I've learned it's far better when angry not to indulge in the deep satisfaction of breaking something, because the satisfaction is momentary but the clean-up is significantly more time-consuming. It's the same with the kind of damage a temper does to children: it requires clean-up, and the clean-up takes significantly longer than the event itself.

I started by going out and saying things like "Whew, that was frustrating, wasn't it?" I explained that sometimes when something is frustrating, it's better to take a little break instead of getting mad. Then I said I was sorry for getting so frustrated and mad, and I said things like, "When we're frustrated, are we supposed to say "AAAAAAA THIS ISN'T WORKING PERFECTLY THE VERY FIRST TIME, SO FORGET THE WHOLE THING!!"? and they'd say "Nooooooooooo!!" and laugh. So step one (indicating end of tantrum, apologizing for tantrum, and breaking the ice by making fun of self while simultaneously delivering lesson on correct handling of something I'd handled incorrectly) was complete.

Then I said we WOULD try again, because it would be too disappointing to just NOT DO IT, and they agreed. I said we'd have to do it another day because we were out of time for today and still needed to find a new frosting recipe, but that we WOULD do it---we would just need to find a way that would work better than the way we'd tried it the first time. They were relieved and happy and saying "Yeah! And maybe NEXT time it will work!" Step two (reassurance, plus contradiction of anything I might have said in the heat of the moment, plus delivering of "try, try again" lesson) complete.

Then I suggested we go to the kitchen and consider the results of our first efforts. We sighed and laughed over the two "successes" (extremely sloppy and dripping and tippy, but TECHNICALLY crackers glued together in a rectangle) and the one total failure, which had tipped over completely. I took a bite of one of the collapsed pieces, and it was really good, so I handed out iced graham crackers to everyone, and we stood in the kitchen eating them and commenting how yummy they were and talking more about what we might try next time. Third step (laughing at what had been frustrating, having a fun and unexpected treat, plus getting to see what the completed houses might taste like when we DID succeed) complete.


So. We are still ON for our Gingerbread! House! Adventure!, but with just a little tantrum learning experience added to the schedule. Day one (yesterday): going out and choosing the candies for decoration. Day two: supposed to be the day for making our own gingerbread houses but rescheduled as a learning experience day. Day three: trying again. Day four: visiting local gingerbread village and being even more impressed now that we've tried it ourselves. Day five: eating our gingerbread houses.

December 8, 2010

Christmas! Tree! Adventure!

I am going to tell you how the Christmas Tree Thing went down. And I would like to warn you in advance that it ends with us having a tree I dislike. But I dislike it so much, it has gone straight past the whole unpleasant realm of Disappointment-'n'-Regret into an entirely DIFFERENT realm where every time I look at the tree I laugh audibly. Like, long peals of merry laughter. So it may seem as if this is a SAD story, but to me it is not. Here it is:

One morning, after much dithering and fretting on my blog and much reading of the resulting comments sections, I felt in the right mind/mood to tackle the task. After the two older children went to school, I told the three younger that we were going to have a Christmas! Tree! Adventure! And they lost their little minds with uninformed delight, which reminded me of when Rob was 2 years old and we told him we were going to go Vote!! and he lost his mind and then we spent the next couple of weeks talking him down from that disappointment.

I collected a measuring tape, a saw, the addresses of two nearby Christmas tree farms, and heavy gloves. Except all I could find was ONE single heavy glove. So the first step of our Christmas! Tree! Adventure! was going to a gardening store and buying work gloves. We bought two pairs, and we bought one of those Christmas tree skirts that turns into a body bag afterward. The store also sold Christmas trees, so we looked at them, but we were unimpressed.

Second step: drive to a Christmas tree farm!!! to see how Christmas trees are grown!! Hitch: the Christmas tree farm had closed down.

Third step: drive to second Christmas tree farm!!! to see how Christmas trees are grown!! We looked all around. After 15 seconds, the children were complaining about being cold. After 2 minutes, Edward was also complaining about being so! very! tired! But I felt like a Good and Interactive Mother for bringing them on this adventure.

Henry: "I need my hood up before I freeze!!" Edward: "I am 1 minute and 45 seconds from claiming that I cannot walk another step!"




We found a few trees we liked Okay, but nothing that made me feel like Purchasing. Most of them seemed to be Weird Shapes (i.e., not the perfect symmetry we're accustomed to from our fake tree). (Note: Many of them now look PERFECT to me as I see them in the background of all the pictures, with that Wrong Tree in our living room.)

And now it was lunchtime. And after that, the twins had to go to kindergarten. After THAT, an ever-decreasingly-enthusiastic Henry and I continued on our Christmas! Tree! Adventure!

First we went to a fancy gardening store. Henry was asleep, so I left him in the car and browsed nearby. All balsams and frasers, despite claims of many varieties. I considered a live potted tree, but the scrawniest and smallest was $85, and oh dear no thank you. All the other trees looked exactly the same as all the others, despite having designations such as "deluxe."

So then Henry and I went to Lowe's. We looked around. Hm, more balsams and frasers. I pulled out some trees to look at, but each one looked the same as all the others. Then Henry needed to go potty, which was timely because I'd been fretting about how to walk out without buying a tree. On our way out we bought a small potted Alberta spruce for $7.95, because why not. I'm putting it on our front steps for now, and I'll bring it inside right before Christmas, then bring it back outside afterward and plant it in the spring.

We went to Home Depot. They had only balsams. All the balsams looked exactly the same as all the other balsams we'd seen that day. I made a decision: we were not going to strap a looks-like-all-the-others-everywhere-else tree to our car when we could carry one home from right around the corner.

Henry and I went home. The other kids came home from school. We all went around the corner, looked at the frasers, couldn't tell the difference between them because they all looked the same, chose one at random, and carried it home.


Left to right: Edward, Henry, Rob, Swistle, William, Elizabeth.
(Elizabeth is carrying the tree stand, which I'd brought with me in case that would be a good idea.)


Hey, look, I think this is Paul's first appearance on this blog! He's in the orange shirt, lying on the floor and trying to tighten the screws of the tree stand. Luckily he asked a CHILD to hold the tree straight, which is why we later found the tree is totally not straight at all. And also, I forgot to first put down the tree skirt that changes into a body bag. And also we were like, "Hey, what are these weird little caps that came with the tree stand?" and it turns out they were supposed to go on the screws that we instead screwed directly up against the tree. And also we forgot to trim the branches off the bottom first. And also by the time we realized we should just take it out of the stand, take it outside, cut off the extra bottom branches and start over, I'd already watered it, so all of that was impossible. And it turns out the "easy watering access" doesn't help at all with figuring out how much water is in the tray, or how full I can fill it. Yays!

AND, do you remember how all of you were like, "A tree looks much smaller on the lot than it will look in your house," and I was like "Okay," and you were like, "No, seriously, WAY SMALLER," and I was like "I GET IT!" And the tree is way too big for our living room. Furthermore, it's not even conical, it's pretty much egg-shaped with a stinger coming out of the top. A bumblebee tree! And it's very densely branched---where will the ornaments have room to hang? And it has barely any scent at all, unless you get sap on your hands, and by you/your I mean me/my.

It's such a Wrong Tree from beginning to end, it is in its own way a delight. Finally I have hurdled the, er, hurdle, of purchasing a once-living tree. Finally I have made many (MANY) of the mistakes I feared making. And look! It is not a disaster, it is just a Tree Not of Our Style in our living room for a few weeks! And next year we will have more information to work with!

Cookies

Oh hi! Is there a Kathy who reads here, who entered the holiday cookie giveaway at Hello Fancy Pants? Because you won! And you need to email Anne because she is MAILING OUT THE COOKIES TO THE WINNERS RIGHT NOW!! (She is sending me a box, too, and NO, I am NOT sitting with my back against the mailbox post, texting on my phone while I wait.)

December 7, 2010

Christmas Card Outtakes Photo

I mentioned on Twitter that I ordered 75 copies of an outtakes photo for the Christmas cards this year, and then decided they weren't funny enough and that I wouldn't send them. I said I was thinking of it in terms of sunk costs: that is, I can't get my money back on the photos EITHER WAY, so at this point the decision is whether to send them or not send them, but the money doesn't enter into it at all because at this point the money is "sunk"---not retrievable, so irrelevant.

The replies have made me think probably I should get a second opinion. So I will show you my Holiday Card Outtakes Collection (4 photos on one 4x6 print, included with the picture that turned out well enough), and you tell me if (1) I'm right, and this is not worth sending along with the picture that DID make it, or (2) I'm wrong.


(You can click on the picture to see it bigger.)
(WAY bigger.)
(How else would you be able to see each shot?)


I'll put a poll over to the right. Keeping in mind that already there will be a 4x6 print that is The Best of the Bunch, should I ALSO include this divided-in-4 print of some of the outtakes? Or are they just "meh" this year, and I should skip it?

Reader Question: Preparing a 2-Year-Old for the Birth of the New Baby

Bird writes:
I have a reader question for you and your amazingly helpful readers:

I'm due to give birth in the next 10 days and I will most likely have another c-section. I have a 2.5 year old son already and I'm wondering how much/what I should tell him about mommy being gone for a few days when I give birth. We've been talking about "the baby" for a long time and I think he's aware enough to understand that there is a baby and its in mommy's tummy but I haven't really broached the subject of actually going to the hospital, having the baby and re-couping for a few days. Most likely he will be in the care of a neighbor-friend for an afternoon/evening until my mother gets into town so the birth will be accompanied by a change in his routine and a
sleepover which I'm sure will give him some anxiety as it is. I've never been away from him for longer than a school day so I think my 4 day absence will be hard on him (and probably me as well). Currently, he thinks people go to the hospital to "be fixed" but I don't want him to think that I'm broken, or something bad happened to me from the baby and that's why I have to be at the hospital. Any advice on what we should say/explain? Thanks!

The book I remember being helpful when I was expecting my second baby was Za-za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins, which I see is out of print. It's not so much that the book was so awesome; instead, it's that I felt like it did a good job setting up the timeline of a new baby---rather than just focusing on the feelings feelings feelings FEEEEEEELINNNNNGSSSS of the older child. In some books (Berenstain Bears and Little Critter, I am looking in your direction), the mom just vanishes and reappears an hour later with a smiling baby, and it's all about how jealous the sibling is, or how the baby is too little to do anything, or how the baby is so awesome.

But in Za-za's Baby Brother, the mom is pregnant, and then grandma comes to stay with the child while daddy takes mommy to the hospital (we see them leaving in the car); then the child visits tired/happy-looking mommy in the hospital and brings a present for the baby; then mommy comes home and is very tired, and the daddy is very busy (and then there is the usual mention of the older child's feelings of being left out and neglected).

Anyway, I think that's the gist of how I'd present it to a 2-year-old: The baby is growing in mommy's special tummy (or however technical you get with that part), and soon it will be time for the baby to be born. You will go to the neighbor's house (add details here about maybe having a meal, maybe watching a video, maybe playing toys, maybe even sleeping there---whatever) and mommy will go to the hospital where doctors will help the baby be born. Then mommy and the baby will rest at the hospital for a few days while grandma takes care of you, and then they will come home and all of us will live together. Mommy and daddy will be tired and busy at first while we all get used to having the new baby live with us, and it might be weird and loud to have the baby around at first---but then before long it will seem normal to all of us.

You can put in tons more detail if he likes that kind of thing: you can say things like "And then Grandma will give you dinner, and you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home! And then you will [whole day's routine], and then you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home!"---and on and on, for as long as he's interested and you can stand it. I think this is a good way to give toddlers a feeling for the passage of time.

Our firstborn (he was 2 years 2 months when the second child was born) was pretty oblivious, but he enjoyed the endless repetitions of the story of what would happen and when and how. Our hope was that even if he didn't really understand it ahead of time, then when it DID happen he would recognize it from the story. (The funny thing was that he continued to want us to tell him the story, even long after the baby was born.)


More tips and ideas and advice for Bird? How did you prepare an older child for the birth of a baby and the accompanying schedule upheaval?

Pink Salt Winner!

Carmen is the winner of the pink salt! And although I know intellectually that every entry has an equal chance of winning, it still seems pretty cool when the very last (or very first) entry wins, and she was the very last entry! I'll email you, Carmen, to find out where you'd like it mailed!

December 6, 2010

Mini-Vacation

So! So so so! This weekend I went on a mini-vacation without Paul or the kids. I went to see my brother (Erik), sister-in-law (Anna), sister-in-law's sister (Lottie), and niece (Niestle). First there was the mini-roadtrip to get there. I brought with me CDs, a large coffee, and a 9x13 pan full of mini-cupcakes I made with the leftover cake batter from the bake sale cake plus the second bake sale cake I had to make when the first one was uncooked in the middle. (I got cocky and thought I didn't need the toothpick test. OH HUBRIS.)

I see nothing funny about these CD choices.
John Denver is awesome,
and so is Blink-182.



(For those of you who have the Blink-182 album and are wondering why the, er, "nurse" is on the inside of the case instead of on the outside: I turned the cover around because I prefer to look at young men in boxer shorts.)

(I mean, right?)


I arrived mid-afternoon, and Erik stayed home with Niestle while Anna, Lottie, and I went to a big musical Christmas variety show, in the kind of theater with enormous high ceilings with, like, nymphs painted on them, with gilt and velvet EVERYWHERE, and a wreath the size of a minivan. We had a wonderful time. One highlight: at one point there was a sober recitation of The Life of Jesus: he was born, he was a carpenter (wait, we seem to be veering away from the Christmas part of this story), and when he was 30 years old the tide of popular opinion turned against him and he was killed but rose again (Easter, this is the EASTER story now). Out of the darkness, the incredulous voice of a little girl in our row: "He DIED??" Another highlight: ACTUAL LIVE CAMELS. Another highlight: muscular young men wearing snug bright pink. Another highlight: The Twelve Days of Christmas with chicken-dancing for the "three French hens" part.

Then we went home, and Niestle was already asleep, and so the four of us grown-ups had tacos and wine and mini-cupcakes. The plan was to play Pictionary, but after my brother found out he'd have to be partners with me again, we somehow never got around to it, and instead stayed up until midnight talking about all the ways our respective parents neglected and mistreated us (KIDDING, kidding, parents who read this blog!). Erik and I totally trumped Anna and Lottie with our Childhood Illness stories: we both got croup a lot; Erik has a systemic poison ivy story and a near-fatal asthma attack story; I have a nowhere-near-as-good-but-still-pretty-good pneumonia story and a tonsillectomy story, plus I can add the Big Sister Cam to his stories. Anna and Lottie were like, "Let's see...I think we must have had some colds." WE WIN. (So it's good we did this instead of Pictionary, because um.)

Then I slept until ten in the morning. TEN.

TENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN.

We discussed brunch. Erik and Anna said we could do a Mexican scramble, or we could do French toast, or we could have Belgian waffles. We weighed the options indecisively, and then Lottie said, "I'm in the mood for sweet AND savory---so why don't we have the Mexican scramble and then finish off the cupcakes?" SOLD.

I left reluctantly, but it was a very pretty day for a drive home. I listened to the radio and felt a leeeeetle silly being a mid/late-thirties mother-of-five singing vigorously "We will never be! never be! anything but loud and nitty-gritty, dirty little freaks!," but not as silly as you might expect (slash-hope).

December 4, 2010

Vacation! and Links

This is skimpy because I am on a 24-hour vacation WITHOUT ANY CHILDREN! More on this when I get back!

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I got an assignment to spend $25 at HomeGoods on a gift for someone, and I decided to spend it on one of you: you can enter my fancy pink salt giveaway through December 6th, which is the day after tomorrow so hurry up. I can mail it to you, or if you want me to send it directly to another U.S./Canadian address I can do that too. I'll even wrap it and put a gift tag on it (from YOU, of course!).

New gift ideas post at Milk and Cookies: Gift ideas for people you don't like.

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Review blog stuff:

Smarty Ants and Phonics Reading Pup, through December 17th. The giveaway is for your own Phonics Reading Pup ($30) plus a year's subscription to the Smarty Pants reading game ($50) plus a Visa gift card ($100), and the entry comment is an easy one: saying which of the two Pups you like better.

December 3, 2010

Quick, Easy Christmas Cake for Holiday Bake Sale or Cake Walk

Every year the kids' school does a big holiday fair, with a bake sale and a bunch of other activities including a Cake Walk. (I was not familiar with Cake Walks, before having children in this school. If you too are thinking, "The what now?," it's where you pay a dollar to walk around a circle of numbered papers on the floor while music plays, and when the music stops if you're standing on the right number, you win your choice of a cake from the cake table.)

ANYWAY, I bake for this fair every year. At first I only baked for the bake sale, because I don't bake cakes. I mean, I BAKE CAKES, like for birthdays, but I use cake mixes and I don't bake them for fun, nor do I like trying new kinds or playing with new decorating techniques. I don't even much like cake. But one year they were DESPERATE for cake donations so I said FINE, and I made two cakes, and I was winging it but I liked how they turned out, and then I was joyful in my heart when I saw that my cakes were among the very first chosen. (And if you are tempted to point out that this was because children were the ones choosing, and children choose cheap and interesting over delicious and quality every time, I suggest you CAN IT WITH WALNUTS, SISTER.) (What does that expression...MEAN?)

I made a cake this year, too, though just one cake this time, and this time I took pictures. If I'd had any idea the photos were turning out so badly I would have...well, actually, I don't have any ideas, but maybe I would have moved to some better light or something.

Start by making a cake mix in two round pans. Do you know to do that thing where you use a serrated bread knife to carefully cut off the rounded top if the cake is too rounded? Do that, if you need to.

Then make the frosting: a stick (4 ounces) of softened butter, a box (1 pound) of powdered sugar, a nice over-full teaspoon (5 ml, but I purposely slosh so it's probably more like 10 ml) of vanilla extract, and 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of milk (the higher fat the better, but skim still works if that's all you've got). Mix that up in the mixer, and add more milk tablespoon by tablespoon until it's nice and spready. (I think typically I end up adding two more tablespoons.)

Because I made just one cake this year, the instructions from now on are for one cake. But if you are making two, it is a matter of doing everything twice, as I'm sure you smarties can figure out.


Put a glob of the frosting on a large paper plate, ideally a Christmassy one bought last year on 75% off. (My demonstration plate has crumbs on it because I put the cake on it first, then remembered I'd forgotten the frosting glob.) The frosting helps keep the cake from sliding around on and/or OFF the plate, when you're carrying it in to the school or when the winner is carrying it away from the holiday fair. (Note on doubling: See, like if you were making two cakes, here you'd put one glob of frosting on each of TWO plates. Easy and also peasy.)



Do you also already know that thing where you put the cake upside down, so that you can work with the nice flat bottom side instead of the rounded/crumby top side? Do that.



Frost the top of the cake. You could do the sides, but I prefer the look of it when it's just the top, and also that way people can see what kind of cake it is, and also that's easier/faster and is less likely to send me into a Perfectionism Tizzy.



Make a rough triangle / tree shape out of green sprinkles. Take a pinch and sprinkle them on, then another pinch, then another until it looks okay; no need for anything perfect, and in fact rough looks better. Do some little flares out to the sides to make it look branchy. (I wish I'd done more out to the side on the bottom right of this triangle. It's bugging me now. Let's do a slapstick comedy where I try to break into the locked-up school to get my cake and fix it before the bake sale!)



Sprinkle some yellow sprinkles on top to make the star. I wish I'd made mine higher and less overlappy with the tree-top. To be fair, I had a 3-year-old UP IN MY GRILL the whole time I was doing this.


Brown/chocolate sprinkles for the trunk. If you don't have brown sprinkles, use chocolate chips or, even better, mini chocolate chips. Or baking cocoa, or brown sugar, or graham cracker crumbs, or a wheat chex, or ANYTHING both BROWN and EDIBLE.



Add a layer of colored sprinkles to be the ornaments and/or lights. I had some flat round ones my mom gave me a few years ago, but anything colorful will work: the spherical jimmies, the stick-like colored thingies (like what the trunk is made of, but not brown), or maybe M&Ms (although I suspect the candy coating would get damp and mergey and fail-ish). Also please note that several "ornaments" are not even ON the tree, and yet life did not end. This is SUCH good practice for us frustrated-perfectionist types.

And now lightly pat the whole design with your fingertips, to make it stick better to the frosting.



Toothpicks around the outside, to keep the plastic wrap from screwing things up.


Plastic wrap, and a sticker with the type of cake/frosting written on it.


DONE. This recipe (the cake mix plus the batch of frosting) makes two single-layer cakes---or, if you like, a single-layer cake for the bake sale and a tray of 24 mini-cupcakes for YOU, for all your hard work.

Quick! Melissa and Doug Sale!

Alert! Alert! Amazon has a deal today on some of their Melissa & Doug toys. I lovvvvvvvve Melissa & Doug. I'll quick point out some favorites, but then you need to get over there before stuff sells out: some of these Amazon deals are gone before I decide what to buy. (All images from Amazon's site.)


Abby & Emma Deluxe Magnetic Dress-Up, $10. I bought this for Elizabeth to give as a gift at the next birthday party she goes to, but maybe I should have gotten one for her, too. In fact, I think I will, right after I finish here.


Bake and Decorate Cupcake Set, $10. My mom bought this for the kids to play with at her house, and it is pretty much the biggest success ever. The only thing I wish were different is that the cupcake papers are ACTUAL cupcake papers. Downside: those are going to need to be replaced pretty regularly. Upside: easy and cheap to replace. Still, silicone would have been better and smarter for a children's toy, I think. I bought one for a future party gift anyway. $10 is EXACTLY what I like to spend on a birthday party gift.


Deluxe Picnic Basket Fill & Spill, $10. These are so great for babies.


Deluxe Sandwich-Making Set, $10. This is the one _I_ want to play with.


Okay, enough messing around! You don't need me to show you every single one while they sell out under your feet, when you can just as easily go look for yourself.