Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Christmas Meme

I intended to post this BEFORE Christmas (originally written on 12/20), but delayed it until I took a picture to include of either our outdoor decorations or our tree. However, it is now December 28 and I still haven't taken a picture of either, so I am posting this entry now.

This will be my last entry before Christmas (I think), because I think no one will be reading blogs again until after Christmas. Things are in full swing. I would really like to keep Christmas a secret from the kids until like five days before, but I don't think the rest of the world would cooperate. They are SO hyped up about it. Every night ends with all three literally jumping up and down or on their beds with excitement for Christmas. The family dramas have reached their pinnacle and are hopefully over until next year (you just cannot make everyone happy all the time). The presents are all purchased and wrapped. Christmas Eve dinner is planned and Christmas day is fast approaching.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Hot Chocolate. Egg nog is so freakin' nasty. Hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows, preferably small ones but out of desperation, big ones will do just fine. On a cold day after outside play, I even let the kids drink it on a blanket in the family room (on the carpet) while we watch a movie.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa does not wrap. Most gifts are from us. Usually, three or four big things are from Santa and they go unwrapped.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White, white, white and lots of''em. Although, we have been discussing the fact that we all like blue lights too. So, maybe next year when our house isn't red anymore, we will experiment with some blue lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No.

5. When do you put your decorations up? While Thanksgiving often marks the beginning of the planning to decorate and working on arranging the house to accommodate the decorations, we usually don't decorate until December 1st.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? I make French Toast on Christmas morning with Challah bread or real French bread, with bacon and sausage and we have a nice family breakfast.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: I have many. Christmas was always a wonderful holiday in my house. The year my dad put a present under the tree and told my brother and I he would give us $100 if we could guess what was in the box. We tried and tried, forever. No idea. Finally, Christmas day, we opened it up and it was a box of paper. Dot matrix printer paper. Huh? Wait right here, my dad said. He brought in an Apple Macintosh computer. Now, think early 1980s here...the home PC was really just on the market. We were so excited, but we really didn't even know why. I loved that computer. A short other one is the puzzle I worked every year and still do. In fact, just completed it with Phillip last night. Or the books we used to read, I have them all and still read them to my kids. One was originally my brothers, from 1971, about a little bear whose family is getting ready for Christmas. It is a scratch-n-sniff and it still smells! I love that book.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? There was a way to see from the upstairs hall into the living room by the fireplace. One Christmas eve, I snuk out on the little balcony and peered in the living room, only to see my Dad putting out a Snoopy phone. My mom was busily organizing other things around the fireplace. It dawned on me...they do that, not Santa! Oh well, who cares--I GOT A SNOOPY PHONE!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We spend Christmas Eve with my mom. Most often that means exchanging gifts with her on Christmas Eve. So, there is a little opening involved. But, no opening of our gifts to each other. I tried so hard every year when I was little to get my parents to institute this tradition and they just wouldn't do it. Now, I understand why and I am not at all for it. I know, I know, some folks have that open a box of new pajamas tradition. Fine, because you wouldn't really give that as a gift on Christmas anyway (except maybe to me...I could use a new pair of flannel pajamas. My office is super cold in the early morning hours).

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? I put the lights on the tree and the kids hang the ornaments (and I don't go back and rearrange). I do hang the fragile ornaments up high, though. About half of all ornaments end up on the floor or carried throughout the house by whoever is the youngest that year. This year, Andy loves to hang three small ornaments that are bells from his pointer fingers and carry them all around. The other two areas of interest are the mantle (it's a long mantle), where we have our Christmas snow globe collection, our collection of Santa photos from each year, the nativity scene and stockings. Plus, a menorah to honor and recognize the Jewish side of my family. Each year, we intend to light the candles during Hanukkah and say the prayers and talk a bit about what it means, and some years we succeed, but most of the time it is hit or miss. This question is about the tree, isn't it? Oh well, let me tell you a bit more. I also put up Christmas artwork of the kids throughout the house, including several pieces by me when I was 6 and 7. The gingerbread houses we made are also on display in the living room and a very special framed picture my mom had made that is sort of a collage of pictures of me and my brother with Santa when we were children, plus a very special one of my Dad with Santa when he was a child. Finally, the boys' favorite decoration is the advent calendar that holds a special surprise each morning. Candy, a small toy or a clue to find a larger toy, book, or treat. Only five more doors to open!

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Love it. My favorite Indiana winter day? Several inches of snow, sunshine and 30 degrees.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes, of course.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? The Snoopy phone or perhaps a kitchen I got for barbies (but, I didn't have Barbie, I had other more socially conscious and realistic barbies thanks to my recovering-hippy mom-I liked them better). The one that I got that was a bit on the edge for her was Darla, she was a Dallas Cowboy's Cheerleader.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Totally family and memories. I love seeing everyone enjoy the day together, relaxing and really, truly making memories.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Cookies and usually whatever I make for dessert for our fancy Christmas Eve dinner. This year, a pumpkin cake with buttercream icing and a praline topping.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Christmas Eve dinner, no matter who comes. I love to cook a gorgeous meal, share nice wine, eat by candlelight, relax and visit with family and friends.

17. What tops your tree? An angle I bought one year when Jeff and I were still dating (been married almost 10 years) for about $2.30 off the clearance rack after Christmas at Service Merchandise one year. Jeff was returning something at the service counter and I just happened to pick it up. I would like something nicer, but now it has so many memories I am not sure I could part with it!

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Totally giving! I work hard to find special gifts for everyone that I think they want and will love. I enjoy seeing their reaction and hearing things like, "how did you know I wanted this?!?" I take careful notes all year on what people need and want and so to finally give it to them is so much fun!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? Carol of the Bells. Silent Night. Joy to the World (that one always makes me cry on Christmas Eve), Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear? I love the ones that talk about the birth of Christ. The hokey Christmas ones are fine too, I enjoy them, but the don't necessarily "move" me like the ones that are actually hymns.

20. Candy canes: Not really.

21. Favorite Christmas movie? Elf. Like, the funniest movie I have ever seen.

22. What do you leave for Santa? I have a special plate and cup for cookies and milk, yet inevitably, almost each year we end up forgetting and I have to stick it out after the kids have gone to bed. We also leave lettuce or carrots for the reindeer. Will try hard to remember this year!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Five People We Should All Know

So, I have this strange rash. Yes, it's true. Who wants to hear about an adult having a rash. really, who wants to hear about anyone having a rash?!? I hear that word and cringe. But, I do. It's weird and I don't have any other symptoms to go with it. I have had Shingles before and know how painful that is. While the spots look like Shingles, they don't feel like'em.

Plus, Shingles are often in one area. I have spots, or more like patches, on my torso, legs, and arms. My question is do I call the doctor or not. Seems to be nothing, then I start thinking about the flesh-eating bacteria that can kill you in an instant, starts out innocent enough and then--it's over. Really, it happened to a board member of an organization my mom worked for a few years ago.

I need someone who is a doctor to just look at it or listen to me describe it--not to diagnose is, but to tell me if it is worth the hassle of going to the doctor over. With my kids, usually I ignore rashes for a few days, unless they have other symptoms. If they persist, I will call. Well, while I don't have other symptoms, it is being a bit persistent.

Who can I call? Who do I know that is a doctor or a nurse? That got me thinking. There are five people I think we all need to seek out and have in our lives--for moments just like this.

1) A doctor or nurse. Just to ask things like, do you think I should make an appointment for this? Ever heard of anyone having symptoms like...whatever? Who would you recommend I see for ....whatever? I play tennis today with an infectious disease doc. Let's see if I get the nerve up to say, "Hey Katie, can you take a look at this?" If I chicken out, I play with a nurse on Thursday night.

2) A tech guru. You know, for those weird error messages or a stubborn program that you install, uninstall and reinstall like six times and it still won't work but it is no doubt due to some stupid thing I am, I mean you are doing and I would be too embarrassed to have my professional tech guy out and pay $65 per hour for him to tell me I forgot to click on an icon or accept the user agreement.

3) A psychiatrist or counselor. Really, not for full therapy, but for a good reality check every once in a while or to help me, there I go again, I mean you, analyze a situation or someone's behavior in a non-objective way. Yes, regular old friends can sometimes do this too, but the opinion of a pro would certainly resonate louder with me.

4) A lawyer. Just to clarify those, "that's not legal--is it?" moments where you feel like you are really getting screwed or want to really put the pressure on someone, but are quite sure how to do it. Just someone to say, "hey, what does the law say about this...or that?"

5) A do-it-yourself-er. Got this one covered. My dad is the greatest at this. He cannot walk past something that is awaiting repair or adjustment in my house without getting out tools. And, he is so good at it, we never have to worry. The guy has saved us no doubt, tens of thousands of dollars in home repair/improvement costs. If he can't do it, we have someone out to give us an estimate, I tell him what they say, and he deciphers whether it sounds right or not.

Thoughts on who else is important to have in your life? No mushy stuff here, please. For this post, only self-serving responses that have little, if any value in the real world.

When I arrived at tennis yesterday, I told the infectious disease doc I had something I wondered if she could look at for me, just to let me know if I needed to go to the doctor. Her eyes lit up like a child on Christmas morning, "Is it a rash?!" Katie recently relocated here from Denver for her husband's job. She has not been working for a few months, but starts a new job at the med center in January. Needless to say, she was totally excited by the opportunity to look at a rash. She asked lots of doctor-like questions and shared some ideas of what it might be. She even took me in the locker room after tennis to further examine my torso. The good news, she said it appears to be a rash related to a virus and asked me if I had had any fevers or sick kids lately. I had a fever one day, when Andrew was first sick, with the horrible cold is is just getting over. So, yes and yes. That's it! I guess I had something and this is the result. The rash itself isn't contagious---phew!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Family Trait

For some reason, potty humor runs in my genes. I cannot help it. I knew it was true love when my future husband to be could beat my uncle in a farting contest. "Welcome to the family, Honey!" And, let's face it...I live in a house with three boys. Potty humor better be on the top of the list.

It cracks me up when I hear people say things to their kids like, "Our bodily functions are not funny." Are you kidding me?!? The trick is just to teach them timing. Good timing is everything in effective humor, anyway. Farts are not funny in church, for example and the diarrhea song is not school-time material.

The other night we were all in the van on the way home from Christmas at the Zoo and Jeff started teasing the voice command feature. You are supposed to be able to push a button and tell the car things like "radio on" or "heat on" or ask it questions like "temperature in degrees" and it should tell you the outside temperature. Ideally, it should also work with the navigation system and you can say, "find home" and it will navigate you home.

But, here is the catch. It doesn't respond well when there is background noise. Even the noise of the air conditioner can totally throw it off, so how about a van full of three little kids. Honda sort of got it wrong on this one. If you are driving a van...hello, it is probably full of kids...and chances are it isn't quite in there.

So, we just use it for fun. Like this...

An adult (let's just leave it at that): I have diarrhea.
The car: Heat on maximum.

An adult: Who farted?
The car: DVD on, Chapter 5.

An adult: I think I pooped my pants!
The car: Heat on 80 degrees.

An adult: I have really bad gas!
The car: Radio on.

It went on and on. I know, I know. Is this really raising great men? No. But, we laugh and laugh and laugh and those laughs do help raise great men.

To Play or Not to Play: That is the Question

Really, how much do you or should you play with your children? For me, no matter how much I do, it never seems to be enough. Last week, I was so burned out from a recent rush to a deadline that all I felt like doing was hanging out with the kids. So, I quit working around 2:30 in the afternoon. I left my office, the nanny went home, and Jeff was already home and relaxing. I read Christmas stories, played Legos, and some monster trucks. About an hour later, I wanted to glance at a magazine and relax on the couch a bit before it was time to start dinner. Relaxing mid-day is a rarity for me, I sort of have to give into it when it happens.

I wrap up my Lego session, after building a fantastic space station with Phillip and Samuel, and plop on the couch. They continue playing for a bit, until Phillip wonders in the family room where I am sitting and says, "Mom, will you play Legos?" I just did, I said. Now I am going to read a magazine for a bit. Here it comes..."You never play with me." Of course, I replay the last hour for him, seeking credit for my efforts like a pissy teenager.

Playing with the kids around here usually follows one of these scenarios:

A) We play, all together. It is great fun. Then, someone decides they are not being treated fairly, is getting fewer turns, didn't get tossed as high as the last guy, or wants to play another game alone with you, like Battleship or Sorry. It is like they set me up to say no, or if I do say yes, the game ensues, only to be interrupted so many times by siblings, it is totally disrupted.

B)We all play together for a set period of time and when I exit, each one asks that I now play with them alone. An impossible task, and even when I break it up, someone always reports "cheating" of someone getting more time or playing something that was more fun than what they played with me.

C) I play with one alone only to be bombarded and interrupted with whines from the others of when is it their turn to play with me to the point where we actually hardly played at all, only distracted and reacted to interruptions.

This was easy to manage with just one. I would play with him for a bit, and then he would play by himself for a while. Play with me, play alone. When number two came along, this took a little more planning and arranging. When Sam was an infant, I could easily play cars, or things that I could do while holding or nursing him. As Sam got older, this became increasingly difficult as it was his main mission to suck every ounce of attention out of a room and direct it at him.

Still, I tried. Puzzles with Phillip and then on to cars with Sam. Back to monster trucks with Phillip and then blocks with Sam. Sometimes, we would manage to all play together, but that was always very short-lived when Sam was little (and often didn't end well). When number three came along, life was so much more complicated than it ever had been before that I had (or devoted) less time than ever to actually playing with the kids. And, like Sam when he was little, number three seems less interested in playing most of the time and most interested in just disrupting and destroying everyone else's playtime...oh, how I love the determination of two-year-olds.

Phillip and Sam play really well together, most of the time. But, there is also the delicate balance of giving them time to play alone (which is important) and making them share (which is equally important). Sometimes, Samuel and Andrew can even get a good game going, but theirs often ends in tears. Three creates odd-man out, naturally. This is a growing problem in our house and I think it will only get worse, not better, as that third man becomes more and more aware of when he is being left out.

I am being honest here, so let's not be too judgmental, but it is most of the time really difficult for me to get down and play with them and not think of all the things I should be doing, like paying bills, cooking dinner, laundry, organizing the closet, or running errands. So, I am ashamed to say after number three, I am sure I play with my kids a lot less than I should and certainly less than they want me to.

Now, I am probably being too hard on myself, as I know I do play with them and I try to keep a realistic picture of how much and what I am playing with them to make sure it is well-rounded and balanced (arts and crafts, Legos, games, etc.). I make sure the answer isn't always no and I love to see the smile on their faces when the answer is yes, I can play. But, it seems to never be enough. That, my friends, can be discouraging.

So, in a perfect world, after my Lego adventure, Phillip would say, "Gee Mom, thanks for choosing to play with us first instead of reading a magazine and relaxing. We had a great time playing and together we built a really cool space station. I enjoyed your company, and now, you deserve some down-time. Go read that magazine and relax. We will play quietly in here for a while."

Well, a girl can dream. And, until that happens (which would be: never), I will instead suffer through constant guilt, followed by friendly reminders from two of my children (and I am sure all three, once he can actually say these words), that "you never play with us."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Compliments Only a Mother Could Love

Sam and Jeff cuddled on the couch. Jeff whispers something in Samuel's ear.

Samuel says, "Mom, you are so beautiful."

"Ah, thank you sweetie," I said.

Samuel whispers something in Jeff's ear.

Jeff says, "Mom, you are so nice."

"I appreciate that," I said.

Jeff whispers in Samuel's ear.

Samuel says, "Mom, you are the best."

"Samuel, you are so sweet to say that."

Samuel whispers something in Jeff's ear.

Jeff says, "Mom, you are so hairy and skinny."

I'll take it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Gingerbread Houses

For about two years now, Phillip has been asking to do gingerbread houses. He would see a kit in the store and ask please, please. I always said no, as it was always my intention to make our own. But, I do a fair amount of baking over the holidays and never quite squeezed that one in.

This year, I finally did it. Last weekend, I used a recipe I have been saving since long before I had kids. I rolled out the dough and used a knife to cut the shapes using a pattern I had made from paper (apparently, the recipe once had a pattern that went with it; but just like when I sew: pattern? I will just make my own!...sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.).

I made one bigger house, then cut the patterns down a bit to make three smaller ones so each of the three kids could have their own to decorate. I had literally just enough dough to get all of the houses cut; my remnant dough pile was probably less than 2 ounces.

They sat all week. Friday night, I glued them together with Royal Icing and let them dry overnight.

Saturday morning, I gathered tons of possible toppings and organized them in to little dishes and bowls.

Each child took a turn and had open season on the treats (both for decorating and eating). Phillip went first. Before we started, we huddled around their computer and Googled pictures of ginger bread houses for inspiration. He was very interested and kept saying, "now, that's a good idea." Once he hit the table, he began implementing all of his unique ideas. One drawback was that he could not squeeze the icing back himself. Not that big of a deal and I can find a way to overcome it for next year, but this year I could tell it frustrated him a bit.

Samuel was next. The whole time Phillip was working, Sam whined around asking, "When is it my turn?" Jeff and I were sure once it actually go to be his turn, he would have little interest. But, we were way wrong.

He was sooo into it! Samuel doesn't have much patience for activities that require a steady hand and sitting for more than about three minutes. But, he loved it and told us what every single thing was as he put it on. I helped him with the icing (glue) and he designed everything else!

And, of course, while Samuel was working, Andy spent the entire time skirting the table asking, "Where's Andy's house?" In class two-year-old form, he is staking his claim on everything these days; everything is "An-nes." Again, Jeff and I thought this would be a quick one. But, no, Andy took the whole thing very seriously.

But, Andy did spend far more time stuffing his mouth than anyone else. In the end, he was careful to select at least one of almost every option on the table for inclusion on his house.

Andy's was followed by hours and hours of pointing and telling us "Andy's house." He was so proud. They each did an amazing job and were far, far more intentional than I had expected. The houses turned out great, now if I can get them to leave them alone until a little closer to Christmas! Closer to Christmas, I will let them start picking on them; seems sort of gross to me (old candy), but I guess to a kid, candy is candy is candy.

Phillip's and Samuel's

Andrew's and Mine

(Really need to move to Flicker, uploading this many pictures on Blogger is a real pain in the butt. And, I have no idea what is up with the spacing. It doesn't look like that in the preview window. Once again frustrated with Blogger.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

I'm Making a List and Checking it Twice

[Argh. Blogger. You really annoy me sometimes. Spell checker not working right now.]

I have been overwhelmed with work for about the past two weeks, literally working 14 and 16 hour days. But, today all five of the proposals were due by 5PM. And by 4PM, they were all uploaded and submitted. Exhale.

So, now, I am catching up. Catching up on email, other projects I have going on that I have pushed aside for the last two weeks. Catching up on being with the kids in the middle of the day and in the evenings. Yes...catching up on blog entries and catching up on getting ready for the holiday season.

But, mostly what I am catching up on is my list making. I started my first list while the last grant I was submitting was still uploading on to the government's submission site. I had a few seconds, so I started a list. A list for work: clients I needed to follow up with, work I needed to give some attention to, things I needed to read and file.

A list for home: things to get at Target, things to do around the house, things to accomplish over the weekend and things to get for people for Christmas. On both lists is to go through other lists and organize the lists, plus update the family calendar (essentially, a big list).

So, you don't need to read too deep in to this one to realize that these lists make me feel in control, or at least like I am headed for being in control. This inital list making process is clearly my way of regaining control after a period of disciplining myself to "check-out" until my work is done. Once I have moved beyond the initial list, the lists are key to my feeling like I am maintaining control.

A simple example of how lists help me maintain my sense of control is my daily food journal. If I write it down, I am good. On days I don't write it down, forget it--I am totally out of control. A list, a journal, a documentation of my plans and thoughts allows me to maintain control and, when possible, quite frankly, sometimes control others. Not necesarrily in a bad way, in a loving, "honey-do" kind of way.

Do you see a theme emerging here? I am not ashamed of being a control freak for two reasons. 1) without it, I would not have accomplished as much as I have wanted to. 2) someone has to be in control, might as well be ME!

But, here is the thing. I try to be very honest about the fact that this is who I am and try to be aware of acknowledging this, but not using that as an excuse for dismissing others. I certainly work hard to be aware of how my actions affect others and what my actions say about me. But, go ahead, call me a control freak: I will proudly own it.