Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Have you ever heard the expression...

..."Looks like you combed your hair with an eggbeater"?

Do you think this is what they mean by that?

Monday, November 24, 2008

A roller-coaster weekend

This weekend was one I was looking forward to. Every year, the weekend before and the weekend after Thanksgiving, Darren goes downstate to hunt. He takes the girls with him because I'm working, and they stay with his parents. They leave on Thursday and get back Saturday evening, so, sweet, sweet freedom for Alice.

Thursday night I went out with my blogger buddy Ann-Marie. We talked for approximately 5 hours over dinner about church and college and marriage, then came home and emailed each other with things we'd forgotten to say. Friday after work, I met my friend Julie (we've been friends since we were four) for dinner and Christmas shopping. We talked for approximately 6 hours about our work and our families and funny stories from high school and how my 70-ish parents inadvertently ate at Hooters.

Saturday I had a completely clear schedule in which to drop off our shoeboxes, grocery shop, clean out my refrigerator, and then spend three hours cleaning out the girls' room. I cleared out all too-small clothing and shoes, toys they weren't playing with, and a box each of books and dolls that could go to the basement. By the time I was done, my family came home. I was excited to see them until I realized my kids were different.

Lucy was obdurate about pretty much everything and had a sassy attitude. Elaine had somehow gotten croup and was just cranky and miserable. Sunday went downhill from there. I kept Elaine home from church. Everything, every single little thing, was a battle with her. If I said No in even the most pleasant voice, cue the wails, tears, and stomping feet. When I had cleaned out the refrigerator, I spent a lot of time washing and slicing carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and grapes and putting them in separate containers, which I marked "snacks." I taught Lucy to read that word and said that when she is hungry, she's welcome to take from any of those containers. Elaine ate all the grapes in one sitting (an entire Tupperware), then was discovered having scattered the cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes all over the floor and was lobbing the tomatoes back up on the refrigerator shelves and laughing an evil laugh. It sounds sort of funny? Except...not at all.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on blurb.com, putting together a book of this blog, with photos, for a Christmas present for my parents (I've gotten up through September so far), while simultaneously watching "The War" on PBS. In between was our own personal family war, punctuated with tantrums, thumping, yelling...it was so awful that I don't even feel like recreating it on here and trying to make it humorous. Because it wasn't.

Elaine was the worst I've ever seen her. After bathtime, I had to force her, struggling and kicking and screaming, into her pajamas. Who knows why. She never has a problem any other night putting them on; usually it's a happy time. But last night? It was one of those times where I actually uttered the sentence, out loud, "One of us is going to win in this scenario. And it's not going to be YOU."

At the end of the evening, while Lucy and I were trying to read, Elaine climbed up with us (I thought to settle down, oh how wrong of me) and ended up grabbing the side of Lucy's face until she screamed in pain. Where did that even come from? I was pretty much ready to call Father O'Malley for an exorcism. I was so, so angry. I made her lie down on her bed because I didn't even know what to do with her. She lay there, punctuating the air with hoarse, angry squawks until finally everything just fell silent. Lucy and I finished up our book, she got into bed, and I checked on Elaine. She had scooted under her covers and was fast asleep...worn out with wicked, apparently.

I went back downstairs and just felt like putting my head down on the table and bawling. What a horrid day. And I really don't have any Bible verse or spiritual insight to put on it. Just...really bad. Definitely not one to put into my blurb book.

But today is new, and the first snow is falling, and it all seems fine. So far.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another One

Here's another installment in the unfolding story of Alysa's refugee family. You will love it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Five: Mystery Edition

Pretty much anyone who knows me or has read this blog for a few minutes knows how much I love mysteries. I was never into the whole romance scene, the bodice-rippers (or bosom-rippers as Ann-Marie calls them, which is awesome and much more apropos.) I always have, starting as a little girl with the Bobbsey Twins, the Boxcar Children, and Nancy Drew. Fortunately, both my girls seem to love them too. Darren bought them some DVDs called, "Country Mouse, City Mouse" that they absolutely adore. They're about a country mouse and a city mouse (really?!?) who travel around the world solving mysteries. The other day Lucy said, "I just love these. I want to watch mysteries all the time. I think I'll call these Elaine's and my, "Country Mouse City Mouse NCIS."

If I'm going to cover such an extensive and fascinating topic as mysteries on the blog, I'm going to have to split it between books and movies. I hope at this point I'm not just talking to myself because I actually love getting book and movie recommendations off other people's blogs. Today I'll just do books and save movies for another day when I don't have much to say. So...here goes:

Top 5 Favorite Mystery Authors (in no particular order)

1. Agatha Christie. I have to list her. She's the queen. And if you haven't read her books, you really should. The first one I ever read was "Pocketful of Rye" when I was 10 years old. I was hooked. My personal recommendations: "Nemesis," "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," "The Pale Horse," "The Crooked House."

2. P.D. James. The current queen. She's close to 90 I believe and just released another novel on Tuesday. Her tortured police inspector/poet Adam Dalgliesh has been solving murders since the 60s. My personal favorite is "Original Sin" (since it takes place in a publishing house, natch). Also worth picking up are the few Cordelia Gray novels.

3. Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell. If you're not familiar, that's actually the same person. Under her real name, Ruth Rendell, she mostly writes police procedurals--the excellent Inspector Wexford series. However, writing under her pseudonym, Barbara Vine, she is stellar. The best. In fact, her books are so good, I order them from amazon.uk so I can get them six months earlier than they're available in the U.S. The BV novels are more psychological in nature. She also takes a topic of interest and does loads of research on it, which I love. For example, "The Blood Doctor"--the story of an MP in the House of Lords, Martin Nanther, at the turn of the 21st century as his position as a hereditary peer is being abolished in Parliament. He is writing a biography of his great-great grandfather who was the physician to Queen Victoria and who did a lifelong study of hemophilia. In addition, Martin's wife continues to be unable to carry a child to term and continually has miscarriages. My personal favorites, in addition to "The Blood Doctor" (and this was extremely hard to narrow down): "A Dark-Adapted Eye," "The Brimstone Wedding," and "Anna's Book."

4. Elizabeth George (not to be confused with the Bible study lady): EG is an American who writes British mysteries--the Lynley/Havers series. She has written probably 12-14 of them, each between 600-800 pages long. Then she leaves you hanging and makes you wait 2-3 years until the next novel. Near the end of my pregnancy with Lucy I could rarely sleep, so Darren kept buying me more EG mysteries--most of which I finished in about a 6-week period. He would routinely get up around 3 a.m. and come into the baby's nursery where I would be sitting in the glider, reading Lynley and Havers. Some, of course, are better than others--I started with the 5th in the series, "For the Sake of Elena," because I picked it up at a used book sale--but I recommend starting at the beginning to get the entire thread.

I saved my favorite for last:

5. Anne George: Anne George wrote eight mysteries, comprising the Southern Sisters series. They are, flat out, the funniest books I've ever read. The mysteries are quite good, but nothing mind-bending. However, I reread this entire series at least once a year just because they're so much fun. The main characters are Patricia Anne (the narrator), a retired English teacher, and her crazy sister, Mary Alice, who has been married and widowed three times by men each twenty-eight years older than she is and incredibly wealthy. They are lifelong residents of Birmingham, AL. There are a whole host of supporting characters who appear throughout the books and about whom you always want to know what happens. I lent them to my dad who returned them later with the comment, "I laughed like a fool." It's not imperative to read them in order, but it's much more fun. The first one is "Murder on a Girls' Night Out."

I'll leave you with an excerpt to whet your appetite. Mary Alice has just bought a country/line-dancing nightclub called "The Skoot-n-Boot." Unfortunately before she could open for business, the previous owner was found in the bar's wishing well with his throat cut. Here, the sheriff is questioning Mary Alice, Patricia Anne, and Henry Lamont, the bar's cook:

“Bonnie could tell you more about that. Bonnie Blue Butler.”

The sheriff looked up from his notes. “We’ve already called her. She’ll be in soon.”

“Interesting name, “ I said.

“She swears she was conceived during the burning-Atlanta scene in Gone With the Wind. Must have had a tremendous effect on her parents,” Henry laughed. “May be true.”

Casablanca caused one of my kids,” Mary Alice said. “You know, when she’s getting on the plane and looking back at Humphrey Bogart. That just does me in. Late movie one night.”

Sheriff Reuse cleared his throat loudly. We all looked at him. “Please. I’d like to continue.”

“Go ahead,” Sister said, having a hard time getting off the subject. “The other two were just vacations or carelessness or something.”

A good disciplinarian, the sheriff used the old schoolteacher trick of being totally quiet and still for just a moment too long. None of us moved.

“Mr. Lamont,” he said, “do you know of anything unusual that has happened here in the last few weeks? An argument Mr. Meadows might have had with someone? Anything that comes to mind?”

A dead body in the well, I thought. That’s pretty unusual. But I kept my mouth shut.


Happy mystery reading!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some Great Reading

Though not too much exciting has gone on with us lately, I've been glued these past two weeks to Alysa's blog. She and her husband and kids are partnering together with World Relief (a wonderful organization with which I used to volunteer) to sponsor a refugee family from Iraq here in the U.S. I encourage you to read their continuing story--it is amazing. And enjoy the beautiful pictures too!

Here and here and here and here and here and here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Big Bunch of Nothing

I haven’t really had anything noteworthy to write about the past few days. It’s cold. Really cold. It jumped from the 70s on Halloween to the 20s a couple weeks later. One year for Christmas, my mom made me a flowered bag filled with rice that I heat up in the microwave and put on my feet. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the 7-month season here we call winter—putting a hot pack of rice on my feet. I live well, I really do. Except Darren and the girls kept borrowing it, so finally my mom made each of them one. Part of our bedtime ritual after I tuck them in, is to take their Strawberry Shortcake and Teddy Bears’ Picnic rice bags down to the microwave, heat them, then put them on each girl’s feet. I feel just like Mama in “All of a Kind Family” when she put flat irons wrapped in towels at the bottom of her daughters’ beds. Except, you know, less chance for third-degree burns. I have so little to write about that I actually considered a whole post on rice bags, complete with pictures. Then I realized that I’d like the few readers I have to actually want to keep reading.

Wake up! I’m still talking about the cold here. We’ve now entered the season where I can’t wear my wedding and engagement rings anymore, otherwise they’ll fall off. (I know, get a ring guard—I’ve already been told.) This worked to my disadvantage last Friday after work when I stopped to fill up my car. A man approached me and offered me a free newspaper (those of you who know where I work know exactly what newspaper I’m talking about). I didn’t want it, but I didn’t want to be rude either, so I took it. Then he sort of snatched it back and said, “You can have this on one condition: if you marry me!” Oy. I was all, “There might be some legal difficulties there, heh heh heh please get away from me.” Then he proceeded to take me a prisoner of conversation at the gas pump and determine where I live, where I work, which schools I went to, and how I got accepted into them.

On Monday when I got home from work with Elaine, Lucy met me in the driveway. “You’re probably going to be mad, Mom. Try not to get too upset,” she said. “What about?” I asked. “Mrs. Blevins sent home all these paper bags, and you’re supposed to make Indian vests for the whole class out of them.” “You’re joking, I know,” I answered. “Daddy put you up to this.”

Then we walked into the kitchen to see the huge pile of bags on my kitchen counter. Does the woman not read this blog? Apparently not. Shocking. But did she not see the pathetic drum I made last week? Why why why why oh why would I be the one parent out of the entire class selected to make 23 brown paper Indian vests? (And there’s a pattern, people. A PATTERN I have to follow.) When I picked Lucy up from school on Tuesday, Mrs. Blevins said, “That’s ok, right? The Indian vests?” “Oh sure!” I chortled. “Not a problem!” She answered, “Well, I thought it would be ok because you said it was better for you to do stuff at home since you can’t really come in the classroom to help out.” I said that? When did I say that? That does not sound like something I would ever say. Does it?

Then today I took Elaine to get her picture taken for her third birthday. It was about time because here is the last time she had her picture taken by herself:

When Lucy was her age, Darren took her in around Christmas. He called me from Penneys. “There are about 30 absolutely fantastic shots of her. I can’t even pick. You need to help me.” He was right. Every picture was frameable. With Elaine, I was just hoping for one. Not that she’s not a cute girl, in my opinion. It’s just that, whenever she meets someone she doesn’t know, or that’s she met only once…or three or four or eight times…actually, really anyone outside her immediate family, she puts her arm up over her face like she’s Princess Diana running from the paparazzi.

I had a long, repeated talk with her about how it's ok to be shy but not to be rude. And how a nice lady would take her picture, I would be with her, and she needed to be friendly and smile. It took her a little while to warm up (the arm came up in front of the face at first), but then she did beautifully. Every so often, her face would fall and she would say sadly and quietly, "I want my mommy," so she would come over to me, I would cuddle her and tell her what a great job she was doing, then she'd go back and take a few more pictures. Apparently it was so draining for her. Fortunately, by the end, I had a lot to choose from (and Penneys is running a 50% off sale!)

As a reward, I took her to Subway in the food court and let her pick out an M&M cookie. It cost $.53. As I rummaged around in my purse, I realized I had only $.26. I sheepishly handed the lady my debit card. "Oh, don't worry, it's on the house." When I protested, she said, "Honestly, it's no problem!" I was so embarrassed, like Elaine and I were taking charity and would soon be in a Lifetime movie called the "Christmas Cookie Miracle" or something. We pretty much just took the cookie and ran. No more Subway at the mall for us.

Now we're home, and she decided she'd like to watch The Waltons because Lucy is at school all day today. As for me...I've got twenty-three vests to make out of paper bags.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Don't Want to Work; I Want to Bang on the Drum All Day

I hate crafts. I mean, I don’t hate crafts that other people make, I just hate making them myself. Crafty and creative handwork is just beyond me. I have no patience or skill. I have a number of friends who scrapbook, make cards, make jewelry, etc., and I pretty much stand in awe of them. I am terrible at stuff like that. I want to do it, I really do. It seems like so much fun in theory. The thought of making a scrapbook is so appealing. But I can’t envision, I can’t design, and I certainly don’t have the hand/eye coordination for measuring and whatnot. Some people love to sit and create for hours—it just defeats me; I want it to all be over so I can go back to reading a book or cooking or something.

So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that when I found out Lucy had to have a homemade Native American instrument for school, I was markedly unenthusiastic. Why am I going out to work to pay for private education if they can’t make a dumb Indian spirit rattle for the Thanksgiving parade during class time, I ask you?

There were what seemed to be pages and pages of instructions for rain sticks and rattles and drums. Kill me. The drum had the shortest amount of instructions, so that’s what I picked. Plus we had two partially empty oatmeal containers on hand (you know Elaine was going to need a drum too), so I dumped the remaining oatmeal into a Tupperware and we were good to go.

First there were elaborate directions on how to take brown paper and temper/treat it so that it resembles bearskin for the drum cover. Yeah, not this little gray duck. I just had Lucy and Elaine draw on brown paper with markers, then we crumpled it up. I haphazardly measured it to go around the containers and taped it with Scotch tape.

“The top of the drum doesn’t feel right, Mom,” said Lucy. So I took a serrated knife and tried to trim the edges. That unfortunately loosened the bottom from the cylinder. More Scotch tape. Darren came in at this point. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Making a s-t-u-p-i-d Indian drum. Where is the packing tape?” I asked. “I buy packing tape every single time I mail a package so we should have approximately 78 rolls of it. Where is one of them?”

“Are you going to put a string through those drums so they can wear them around their necks?” he asked.

I made an exasperated and despairing noise at him that I’m not sure how to spell here. Why was he trying to add an additional step to my Purgatory? It was like part of my soul withered and died. And was cut up and fed to hyenas. “Dad,” said Lucy reprovingly. “She’s only 39.” [And no, I did not make that up.]

He got some twine and fixed both so that they had strings. Here’s Lucy’s in all its glory:

For a little while, she and Elaine marched around, beating their drums to George Winston music. If you’re familiar with George Winston, you know that he plays quiet, mellow piano music. Probably what I’ll play in my room at Shady Pines. Not exactly drum-friendly. “I wish I had a rainstick instead,” Lucy said gloomily after a few minutes.

Here she is with her drum:

“Mom, it doesn’t sound right. I don’t like it,” she said.

“Lucy,” I answered, “the only thing that matters is that you have some instrument to be in the parade and march around the school with. How ’bout, ‘Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping me’?”

“I get to march around Lucy’s school?” Elaine shouted.

Lucy continued to grumble and complain about her drum and how only boys had drums and all the other people had rainsticks and she wants a rainstick, so finally I sent her up to her room to sit on her bed for complaining and being ungrateful.

You see how crafts bring disunity and discord to my family even?

Yet another reason for me to hate them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Little Christmas Shopping

This past Saturday, the girls and I were at Target before 8:00 a.m. to shop for Operation Christmas Child. Nobody is at Target before 8:00 a.m. so we could shop to our heart's content.

Here they are, ready to shop:

Target's Dollar Spot is the greatest place to buy stuff. We shop there year-round, but at Christmastime, they fill it with the stocking stuffer gifts, which are perfect for the OCC shoeboxes. The girls had a blast picking out little wooden puzzles, finger puppets, jump ropes, Hello Kitty merchandise (we assume little girls across the globe love Hello Kitty!), hair bands and barrettes, coloring books, and crayons. Then we hit the travel toiletries section and stocked up on bar soap and toothbrushes/toothpaste. At the checkout, we picked up bubble gum and Lifesavers. And of course we made sure to get a small doll for each box.

The next day we wrapped and packed the boxes.

When the boxes were packed, we gathered around and put our hands on each of them and prayed for the little girl who would receive them.

I hope that besides honoring Jesus and bringing some happiness to two other girls somewhere in the world, that my girls are learning the joy of selfless giving. Not once did I hear them bicker (well, with the possible exception of who was going to sit where in the cart) or say they wanted some of the toys and candy for themselves. "We got toys for dat little girl who doesn't have none!" said Elaine. And that gave me happiness too.

Here's a little something else that brought me joy. Here's a new feature at our Target. Check it out:

It's a security bike. Look more closely:

Is that not the funniest thing you've ever seen? I mean, does it have lights? A siren? Wouldn't you just give anything to be there when some poor unsuspecting shoplifter tries to take some of the Isaac Mizrahi line or an iPod out of blue world (and if you know Target like I do, you know the electronics section is called blue world), and the Target security guard fires up that puppy to ride to the rescue in the name of assets protection?

Joy. It really is in the littlest things. You just have to know where to look.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Tearful Farewell

Lucy has stopped sucking her thumb. And it only cost me $13.96. It would have cost me only $7 something, but we dropped the bottle of Mavala STOP on the bathroom floor. Over the years we've lived in this house, we continue to test what will endure being dropped on a ceramic tile floor. From our extensive research, we have discovered that among many other items: coffee mugs, china plates, glass mixing bowls, ceramic dolphins, bottles of red nail polish, and laptops cannot survive a drop on either our kitchen or bathroom tile. We can now add bottles of thumb-sucking deterrent. Feel free to use our research if you don't wish to conduct your own.

Lucy has sucked her thumb since...well, forever. I'm sure she did it in utero. Then--enter Rabbie into her life. Alysa and Maddie gave her Rabbie when she was only a few weeks old. Lucy's thumb and Rabbie made a potent self-calming combination. We are convinced this is why she has always been such a good sleeper too. She utterly rejected any sort of conventional pacifier; she had one built in. Whenever she would fuss as an infant, we would hunt around for Rabbie and tell her, "Find your thumb!" Instant success.

As for Rabbie, he's the fifth member of our family. He's become almost like Where's Waldo? He appears everywhere Lucy is.

Here she is, looking at him lovingly (a note: he began life as an adorable rabbit. My dad now refers to him as "the sewer rat"):

Here he is at my brother and sister-in-law's wedding with Lucy as the flower toddler:

Here he is at the grave of Paul Revere:

Here he is at Lucy's first Christmas program (she is singing "Away in a Manger" and Rabbie is standing in as Baby Jesus):

If you could peek in this pink bag, you could see him here on Lucy's first day of pre-school:

Here he is now:

I never worried about her stopping the thumbsucking habit because all the psychologists and child experts I read said that children will stop on their own, and any attempt by parents to get them to stop will only make it worse. So I did nothing. Thanks, psychologists. Now I have a 5-year-old dedicated thumbsucker with an overbite.

I first gently gave reminders to remove her thumb. I tried limiting Rabbie only to bedtime. I would remove her thumb from her mouth every night when I checked on her. I asked if she would consider wearing mittens to bed. We tried sucking on tic-tacs instead. Nothing worked.

Now Lucy is beginning to get her permanent teeth. As I write this, she has one bottom tooth and her two top front teeth loose. The dentist says there is a chance they will grow in straight if she stops sucking her thumb. So I did some more careful research of products. Most seemed destined for failure, with the exception of Mavala Stop. I ordered a bottle, and we tried it. (Then shattered that on the ceramic tile floor after two applications and had to order another bottle.) The taste is so wretched, there is no way you would put it in your mouth for even a moment. Lucy hasn't sucked her thumb since we started applying it. She has, however, had a hard time getting to sleep most nights. And one night I came in to check her, she was crying quietly.

"I miss my thumb!" she sobbed.

Then came the day when she wanted to watch a movie and said, "I guess I don't need Rabbie with me for the movie if I can't suck my thumb."

This is what I've wanted! I'm so proud of her! It looks like this habit is broken, thereby possibly alleviating Darren and me of extensive orthodontist bills in our future. Plus, she's a big girl now. She's five, and it is time to put away things from when she was a baby.

But...a little part of me way down inside is so, so sad.

I'm going to miss this:

And this...

And this...

And this...

And this...

And especially this...


Monday, November 10, 2008

And speaking of birthdays...

...this is my kind of mom.

Some Weekend Things and a Book Recommendation

This weekend, the girls and I got up early and headed out to shop for Operation Christmas Child (I'll do a whole post on that later). Then we came home, and I made Hello Kitty waffles for breakfast. Darren and I had a wedding to go to in the afternoon, so we dropped the girls at my parents'. After the wedding when we picked them up, we gave them the favors we had gotten--little tulle bags filled with mints and cherry candy. They called them "flavor bags" and ate them all the way home. The car smelled overwhelmingly like mint, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Sunday morning was kicked off by Elaine stomping into our room, crying. "Mom! Mooooommmmm!" she sobbed. "What?" I asked groggily, lifting my head from the pillow.

"Lucy has spoiled this day!" she bawled directly into my ear. Let me tell you, it is quite an accomplishment to already spoil a day by 6:30 a.m. But they got over it, and by afternoon were completely happy with each other. It was our first real cold day of the season--snow flurries and everything--so when we got home from church, we changed into warm clothes and all got under various blankets in various rooms with our various rice bags heated in the microwave.

By around 5 p.m., I could see that Elaine was about to fall asleep so I scooped her up and put her in the tub. That woke her up, and then she had a little Mommy time while we read awhile. These are the books she picked out for me to read: "Peter Rabbit" (her favorite) about a naughty rabbit, of course. "Tom Kitten," about a naughty kitten. "The Tale of Two Bad Mice" (or as she calls it "Hunca-Munca"), about two naughty mice. Are we seeing a thread of continuity here?

After that, Lucy took her own shower (by the way, can I just say how much I am loving that a) both my kids are completely and totally potty trained and don't need me in that area at all, b) both kids can buckle their own car seats, and c) Lucy can take a shower by herself if need be. [Insert Aretha Franklin's "Freedom" here]). Then she put her pajamas on, and we read several chapters of The Bobbsey Twins "Wonderful Winter Secret." We are currently big Bobbsey Twins fans at our house. I asked Lucy if she would like to take the book with her today so that Mrs. Pope could read a chapter to her after school, and she said, "Oh no, Mom. This is our special book. If Mrs. Pope read some, then you would miss some of the chapters!" I just love that girl.

Speaking of books and especially of Peter Rabbit, I have an absolutely fantastic book recommendation. Growing up, my mom always made our birthday cakes (actually, she still does). But when we were little, she did wonderful things like elephants and rocket ships and Raggedy Ann and once for my brother, an entire train with individual, decorated cars. Since my mom set the bar pretty high, I guess I figure that decorating my child's birthday cake is something I should do. However, my fine motor and artistic skills are, shall we say, maybe not my strong points. Fortunately my girls aren't too discerning yet, but I'm always looking for ways to do things better.

Then...ta da! This book (published by the very company where I work! Buy it! Please!):

I just got my copy last week (I believe it has been featured on the Today Show). "Hello, Cupcake!" is written by a food "stager"/designer and photographer. First off, it's just a blast to flip through the pages. But the absolute best part is that really the only things you need are a zip-loc bag and candy readily available at the grocery or gas station (gas stations sometimes have the most comprehensive selections of candy). Not to mention--this book is THICK. It's not some little magazine with 5 or 6 ideas. It's also a springboard for your own creativity; the ideas are definitely adaptable. The chapters are broken down by event and various holidays. I think my personal favorites were the fishbowl cupcakes and the sunflower cupcakes, but it is so hard to decide.

Elaine has been saying for weeks now that she wants her birthday cake to look like Mr. McGregor's Garden. I've been figuring out how in the world I can make this cake and WHERE in the world I can find marzipan to fashion into tiny vegetables. I do love where I live, but I don't have the easiest time finding things such as rosemary and escarole. I was beginning to despair of ever finding marzipan. Enter stage left..."Hello, Cupcake!" There is a detailed vegetable garden fashioned entirely out of candy readily available at my area Super Wal-Mart. I cannot wait to stay up all night the night before her birthday and do this cake.

So, if you're looking for party/cake ideas, this book is a veritable jackpot. Go forth and purchase! I'll be posting pictures when the time comes...

Friday, November 07, 2008

It's '50s Friday!

I was going to do another top 5 Friday (something to do with mysteries because we are all mystery-crazed at our house), but I'll save it for another time. This week Lucy came home and said excitedly, "Mom, it's '50s day on Friday! Everyone has to dress up like the '50s and we're going to play games with the number 50 and have bubble gum and root beer floats!" OK, we did not have this much fun when I was in kindergarten. Where is my '50s day, I ask you? But this is one of the reasons I enjoy having kids, so I can live vicariously.

She went on to remind me about '50s day every day this week. Yesterday when I picked her up from school she said, "I need a costume, Mom, you know, for tomorrow for '50s day." I am all about scrounging around and using what we have at home for costumes. In pre-school, there was a dress-up day practically every other week. Remember, I am the one who famously sent Lucy dressed in a stethoscope and her pajamas, which I convinced her were scrubs, for community helper day. So I said, "I know what you can wear. We'll roll up a pair of your jeans, and then you can wear a white t-shirt and your white gym shoes."

"No!" she said, with a note of panic rising in her voice. "I need a poodle skirt and top! I can't wear jeans and a t-shirt! That's what BOYS will be wearing!"

I don't know, something about that just raised some compassion in my heart. This girl needed something to wear for '50s day. So, we headed to Target. Wait--we headed home to take care of something first. The previous night as Darren and I were turning out the lights downstairs and getting ready to head to bed, we noticed with shock, shock I tell you, that someone had drawn on the walls. In more than one place. Naturally we assumed it was Elaine, since that's pretty much something she would find delightful, but then we looked closer. The drawings were perfectly executed stars (Stars of David, not pentagrams. Can we be thankful for this?)

When confronted, Lucy confessed. She didn't know what got into her except that she didn't have enough paper. You know, because the several reams of printer paper and the 17 coloring books we've picked up at each trip to the post office aren't readily at her disposal. I pointed out the lameness of that excuse and handed her the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Then we had a little talk about how the bank owns our home and how Daddy and I work hard to pay a little something every month on a 30-year mortgage. And how we expect a 5-year-old to know better than write on the walls.

Then we headed to Target. [A side note: Darren and I were so outraged and disappointed that our lovely, mature daughter would write on our walls. Then I remembered the time in grade school, waaay after I should know better, that I thought it would be ever so hilarious to fasten the little hook and eye lock on the attic door while my brother was up there looking for something. When he tried to get out, he didn't realize the door was locked; he thought it was stuck and threw his entire scrawny frame against it. The door burst open, ripping a piece of the door frame with it. You know, the 80+-year-old original wood door frame. How we've lived to tell the tale, I'm not sure.]

Anyway, we found some things at Target that make a perfect costume and can also be worn separately. When we got home, Lucy couldn't wait to try it all on. She danced upstairs and shouted, "Come and help me get dressed in my '50s costume, Mama!" Then, I heard a little voice behind me. I turned to see Elaine standing only in her jeans, with her shirt off, "Where's my costume?" she asked sadly.

Ohhhhh. We went upstairs together to help Lucy. I knew Elaine couldn't be pawned off with the usual assortment of dress-up clothes that they wear on a semi-daily basis, so I searched in the closet and brought out a Christmas jumper. "How about this?" I asked brightly. "Look at this darling little Christmas dress. It's got sparklies on it! And a Christmas tree! And two Scottie dogs!"

"Dat is NOT a costume," she declared mutinously.

Fortunately, a friend recently gave Lucy three absolutely beautiful and very fancy dresses--all taffeta and net and beading. I grabbed one of them that had a little matching jacket. "How would you like to try on this gorgeous princess dress?" I asked. Her little face brightened like the sun. Now THAT was an acceptable costume.

Here they both are--

My little '50s girl...(with the requisite poodle of course)

And Elaine, who also went to my closet and found some suitable "cloppy shoes" to go with her outfit. She doesn't look happy or anything, does she?

Happy '50s Friday to all!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

This is great...

Since Lucy has started kindergarten, the issue of academics, particularly hers has come to the front of our minds. Darren and I both found our elementary and high school educations wanting, and we want to make sure to do the best we can that that doesn't happen to Lucy or Elaine.

However, my girls' academics, athletic abilities, artistic talents or whatever else they may have are not our main priority. I was thinking these thoughts while getting ready this morning and then opened up my computer to find this.

Angie said everything I believe and feel except articulated it a whole lot better than I could have. I'm definitely going to be taking her challenge!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

(from Darren) "I was wondering why, when I walked into the kitchen, there was a naked Barbie doll in a mixing bowl in the sink."

Time to Start Thinking About Christmas--Only 49 Days Away!

I think I mentioned before that Darren has a yearly tradition with the girls. Sometime in October, our local Farm-n-Fleet has their annual Christmas toy weekend. For weeks, aisles are shrouded in dropcloths. Then early one Saturday morning (and apparently people line up for this madness), they unveil all the new toys, which are then on sale for the Christmas season.

My family makes countless trips to Farm-n-Fleet, just to look at the sparkly new princess toys, baby dolls, toy kitchens, trucks that really dig, helicopters that really fly, you name it. They constantly revise their lists of what they want. I remember that feeling before Christmas--we used to look through the Sears catalog and dream about what would be under the tree that year.

Add to all that, Elaine's birthday is in mid-December. I refuse to give her presents that double as birthday/Christmas, so December is a banner month for her. Unfortunately, she has a bit of a dry spell for the rest of the year, but what can you do. I just asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and she shrieked joyfully, "PRESENTS!"

In the midst of this, one thing that is paramount to Darren and me in our parenting is to instill a spirit of giving and gratitude in our girls, as well as to give them a vision of the world that is beyond our four walls, our church, our city, and our country. We don't just encourage this at Christmastime--we do it all year--but Christmas provides unparalleled opportunities to give.

So, while they are dreaming of new toys, we will also be participating in this. Whether or not you are familiar with this organization, if you're looking for some way to give this Christmas I encourage you to watch the short video attached to the site. You know how when you give, the best part is to actually see the person receive the gift? Well, you get to now. The girls and I sat and watched the video together (yes, I cried)--especially moving is the little girl who prayed for a doll. I guess little girls are the same all the world over!

It was wonderful to see Lucy and Elaine catch the enthusiasm of wanting to give and serve. They began excitedly talking about what they wanted to pack in their shoeboxes. We decided we wanted to make sure we found dolls with brown skin and dark hair, since so many of the children we saw did too. We're planning to head over to Target to do some shopping this weekend.

One of the greatest things about this opportunity is that it can be done on such a small scale. Even if you are able to fill only one box, you will be making one child's Christmas completely full and joyful. Samaritan's Purse also has a gift catalog with opportunities to give as small as $4.00--blankets, milk, vaccines, stuffed lambs, books...it's so easy, even if you don't have much to spare.

The national week for shoebox drop-off is November 17-24, so there is still time. On the website, it is easy to find a drop-off center near you: we found one within a mile of us.

Probably most of you have people and places you plan to give to this holiday season. But if you don't, or you're looking for a unique and fun way to give with your children to other children--this is a fantastic, reputable organization. You can be assured that your gifts will be received by a child who desperately needs and wants them.

I hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

As of 7 PM, I Already Know Who Won the Election

It was the Bear. He beat out the Fox and is now the new King of the Forest.

Lucy's class held the election. They had voting booths and everything. They all wore red, white, and blue. Apparently Bear won by a landslide: 16 to 6.

I asked Lucy what were Bear's qualities and qualifications that made her vote for him.

"He's kind, Mom. He cares about the other animals in the forest, and he listens to their problems."

"What was wrong with Fox?" I asked.

"He was horrible. He was so proud of himself. He actually voted for his own self! He didn't care about anybody else. Everybody was happy Bear won."

Well, almost everyone, I guess. Except for the 6 who voted for Fox.

Don't you wish it was that simple?

When I was little, I kept wishing I was grown up. Now that I am grown up, I wish I didn't have to know all the things I do. I never ever get political on this blog, and I'm not about to start now. I don't really remember such a trumpeted and overhyped election as the one this year (no, not between Bear and Fox. Between those other guys.) I don't remember a time when it has all gotten so heated. I have friends on both sides. Honestly, I am so sick of it. So tired of trying to decide what to think and what to believe and how to vote about it. I just want it to be over for a little while anyway. Also, I'm really mad that NCIS was pre-empted tonight due to election coverage.

The Associated Press said today, "The morning after: Half of us will be disappointed." Wow, nothing gets past the media, does it?! I went to cast my vote this morning. And I think I know what the outcome of this election will be, but I don't know for sure.

I do know that whatever happens, I will not be disappointed in the morning. One thing stands out to me amongst all the issues and campaigning and lies and hoopla:

Proverbs 21:1 "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord. He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Recent Quotes: Halloween Edition

Despite having one sick little black cat, Halloween 2008 was wildly successful. We made Elaine rest and sleep during the day so that she could trick-or-treat a little bit and come to the church fun fair at least for awhile. I think this is probably the nicest, most temperate Halloween I can remember--it was in the 70s.

I got the girls into their outfits and put their makeup on (which I had to repeatedly apply since they kept rubbing their noses) around 5:00. Darren took them out to trick-or-treat at 5:30 while I headed over to the church for the fun fair. Before they headed out, I asked "Now what do you need to remember while you are trick-or-treating?" Lucy said promptly, "Tell everyone thank you and don't wiggle our tails." Yup, that about covers it. I mean, that could just pretty much be their new life motto, don't you think?

At church there was a donut-eating contest, ring-of-pop, ducky pond, coloring table, cookie decorating table, dart game, bean bag toss, and cake walk. The girls both won candy at the booths and cake at the cakewalk. There was a chili cookoff (Darren didn't compete this year) and hotdogs for the kids. About 30 minutes into it, Elaine was sitting in a chair, holding a tostito and looking at it. I said, "Are you feeling sick? Do you want Daddy to take you home?" She nodded her head, so he did that. Then when it came time for the costume contest, Elaine won in her age category! I had to accept her prize for her (a book). Then before we left, each child got a large bag of candy too. Oh, and I won at the cakewalk as well--my friend Judy makes the most fabulous treats ever, so I made sure to select hers as my prize. I got chocolate-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered marshmallows.

This morning Elaine crawled in our bed around 4. She woke up around 7. "Guess what?" she whispered, leaning over into my face and spewing her germs onto me. "Guess what, Mama? I got cookies and candy when I went trick-or-treating!" Then Lucy climbed in with us. I tried to be asleep while they chatted about their candy. For some reason, they both brought their little jack-o-lanterns with battery-operated tealights in with them. With my eyes closed, I felt something. Lucy had her tealight and was running it through my hair. She whispered to Elaine, "Let’s see if this light will turn her hair a beautiful orange/blond/brown. And maybe just a little bitty bit to burn it."

OK, time to get up. We went down to the kitchen where, surrounded by plates of cupcakes from the cakewalk, trick-or-treat bags, our leftover Halloween candy we had passed out, and the bags of candy the church gave, I made them eat Fiber 1 cereal with skim milk.

And now...it is on to the holiday season. I asked them if they knew what holiday came next, and Lucy shouted, "Thanksgiving! That's where we get to eat pumpkin pie!"

Some day that girl is going to have a show on the Food Network, mark my words.