Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year is dying in the night

Around this time last year we sat down and made a list of family and individual goals to work on in 2013. We did fairly well, especially on the goals we were able to break down into manageable chunks.

1) One of our goals was to go on 100 family walks together (and also swims and later in the year we started counting family grocery shopping trips as well). Andrew, our resident nerd, has made a graph of the walks we took throughout the year:


Monday, December 30, 2013

Just in time!

Last night Karen asked me a question I'd been dreading: "Have you put Benjamin in Andrew's old suit?"

Aunt Susan made Andrew a darling corduroy suit when he was a toddler and Karen kept it packed safely away until Andrew had a boy of his own. She pulled it out and gave it to us before we moved.

It's a tribute to her organizational skills that she knew exactly where to find it (even though no one had worn it for a quarter of a century). It's a tribute to my lack of organizational skills that I had no idea where it was for the year and a half we've lived in this house. I suppose that's not quite true because I remember seeing it (and a couple other outfits I thought might fit him) at one point early on but I haven't seen this suit in about a year and I had no idea what I did with it.

"No!" I moaned. "I can't find it! I know it's in a box in the attic but I don't know which one. I thought I went through them all but I still haven't been able to find it!"

This has been so frustrating for me, especially because I think that with Aunt Susan's death this suit has been on everyone's mind this past year (I know it's been on mine).

We'd already decided that when we put the Christmas stuff away (which we did today) that we'd get down all the boxes of clothes (which we did today) so we could do an overhaul on Rachel's wardrobe (which we're currently doing) and finally find that blasted suit (which we did today)!

It looks like we found it just in time! The jacket fits perfectly, though the pants are a little roomy.

He thought he was hot stuff and his sisters declared, "He is so handsome!"



And he is extremely handsome. I just wish Aunt Susan could've seen him wear it.

And also that I had a picture of his daddy wearing the same suit. Do you have one, Karen?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Benjamin's words

Since I haven't done it yet, I figured I should attempt to make a list of words Benjamin says. After all, I did so for his sisters, and Benjamin has recently begun trying to talk enough that a list might be merited (finally).

So here are some things Benjamin can say:

  • Cheese (sounds like chiz (this is currently his favourite word))
  • Ball (sounds like baa)
  • Bowl (also sounds like baa)
  • Shoe (sounds like shh)
  • Cookie (sounds like a messy, drawn-out k: khhhh, sometimes duplicated khh-khh)
  • Baby (sounds like bebe)
  • Nurse (sounds like nuh-nuh)
  • Banana (sounds like naa-naa)
  • Mom/Momma (he actually says this correctly—of course, it's been the only thing he's said for the past forever, so he should say it right)
  • Dad (he says this correctly, too, though sometimes he says daa or daddy instead)
  • Rachel (sounds like rah-rah)
  • Miriam (sounds like mee-um)
  • Benjamin (sounds like ben-juh-muh (he has only said this once))
  • Dog (sounds like daw)
  • Water (sounds like waa-waa)
  • Amen (sounds like meh)
  • Bobo (sounds like Bobo (this is the name of the monkey in the book Hug))
  • Boo (sounds like buh)
  • Bye (sounds like baa)
  • Hi (sounds like hi)
  • Duck (sounds like duh-tee)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas dinner and beyond

For Christmas dinner we wanted to do something classy, memorable, and traditional. Andrew made potato pancakes (also known as latkes) and beef stew, we spread a table cloth over the table and set glass dishes for everyone but Benjamin. We had an assortment of beverages and a vegetable platter.



A boy and his alligator...or crocodile

Benjamin really loves this crocodile...or alligator. Whatever it is he loves it. He likes to make it bite his fingers. He likes to feed it its bottle. He likes to use it as a stool. He just loves it.

Here are some pictures of him feeding his alligator today:


Presents!

One of the books we got from Sister Wood was Santa's Toy Shop. We read it and the girls went to bed wondering if Santa would choose their house as his last stop so he could take some time to play with the toys he was bringing for them. We told them he might.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Christmas Swing Set

Yesterday Brother Brown (who had been "hiding" our swing set in his field) phoned to say he had the swing set loaded in a trailer and was ready to come to our house. This was a surprise for us because we'd been planning on helping to load the trailer ourselves. Brother Brown had enlisted the help of a couple of neighbours however, and instead of helping load a swing set I found myself hurrying to get out the door before they arrived.

Our neighbourhood has two entrances and I briefly considered turning left to go out the "other" entrance but I'm a creature of habit when it comes to driving so I turned right and went to our "usual" one. Just as I was pulling up to the stop sign, who do you think comes driving by in a big, shiny truck pulling a trailer burdened with a play set? Brother Brown, of course.

"Whoa!" Rachel gasped. "Is that for us?"

And thus I was faced with lying straight to my child's face in order to preserve a surprise. But I didn't lie. Not once.

"Why do you think it would be for you?" I asked her, deflecting her question with a question. "Didn't you see that huge pile of presents we have at home?"

"Well, I thought you wanted to order a swing set," she pointed out.

It's no secret in our house that (a) Rachel wanted a swing set and (b) that I'd been scouring Craigslist for one of decent price and shape.

"I didn't order a swing set," I told Rachel. And that's true—you don't order things from Craigslist. "There's no way we could afford a swing set like that!" That is also true.

"Well, maybe you just borrowed some of Dad's money without him knowing," she suggested.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nativity 2013

The kids were just choosing their costumes to act out the nativity when Brother Brown came by with his gifts. I didn't catch Miriam in her original Mary costume...she ended up being an overly-dressed-for-the-occasion Mary, sporting an elegant gold ball gown and crown rather than a simple frock and headscarf.

Benjamin was a wise man. He wore his galabeya, a gold cape, and a pig hat (his choice).


Making Christmas

On Saturday morning Daddy went to Brother Brown's house to do some repairs on the swing set we'll be giving the kids tomorrow. Brother Brown was already hard at work when Andrew arrived. They worked on it together for a couple of hours. It's nice to know someone so knowledgable about fix-it stuff!

Brother Brown reminds me of Ron Swanson (only slightly more liberal and far less anti-social—he's even got the mustache). I don't think there exists a thing in the world that he couldn't fix!

While Daddy was off working on the swing set, we were at home lazing around. Rachel was coming down with whatever Benjamin's just getting over so she wasn't feeling too great. Miriam wanted to go to the playground but Rachel just wanted to stay home. She appeased her younger siblings by breaking out the face paints.

She turned Benjamin into Elmo:


Monday, December 23, 2013

A Magical Library

We went out caroling yet again this evening, but left the house so late that we only went to half the houses we planned on. It didn't help that we stopped by The Mangum Family Christmas Lights...



Rachel was so mesmerized she didn't want to leave. Miriam, on the other hand, had fallen asleep in the car and was super annoyed when we tuned the radio to the correct station and jazzy Christmas music started blasting through the speakers.

When we noticed the time we decided we'd skip our other stops (sorry other people we were planning on caroling to—my kids already ate your treats) and just go to Miriam's primary teacher's house since we knew they didn't have any little children to wake up with our obnoxious Christmas music (and we know how annoyed children can be when they are awakened by obnoxious Christmas music).

Visiting this sweet couple is always such a treat. Always.

They invited us inside to play (and took plenty of pictures of us doing so):


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome to Christmas Break

We went to the museum (of life and science—what else?) yesterday afternoon. We spent most of our time outside (after walking through the Sprockets, Pulleys, Springs exhibit inside). It's too nice outside not to be there (except that some of us are battling colds—so we're indoors resting (unfortunately)).

Here's Benjamin enjoying the chimes outside:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rachel's Class Christmas Party

Yesterday the kids and I spent the entire day at Rachel's school. It was both exhausting and exhilarating. Perhaps it's was mostly exhausting for the grown ups and mostly exhilarating for the children. At any rate, that's how it seemed at the end of the day!

Rachel's class is doing a unit on bears and are currently studying polar bears. I brought in supplies to do a "blubber glove" experiment with the kids, which was well-received. Then the other room-parent talked about snowflakes and the kids made snowflakes with much enthusiasm until lunchtime.


Christmas Cheer

At church a few weeks ago a friend offered us a couple of dresses her daughters had outgrown. One of those dresses was a fancy-schmancy, sparkly-frou-frou little red dress, just perfect for Christmas. Rachel was thrilled to have another Christmas dress (she's outgrown all of hers and passed them on to Miriam). On Sunday here's what my little brood looked like just after church (or perhaps just before...I can't remember):

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spelling Bee

Rachel's school had a spelling bee this year. I guess it's something that they do every year. I guess it's also a relatively normal thing within the US education system (though, don't get me wrong because schools are state-run (they aren't federal so any attempt to ensure that children across the country are receiving the same learning opportunities should probably be stifled immediately (I jest; because I'm not actually all that against Common Core Standards (it's not a curriculum, people))). But seriously, spelling bees are a thing here.

When I was little we had a couple of games on the computer that I liked to play—Treasure Mountain  and Spellbound!—both by The Learning Company. You could incorporate your own spelling list in the Spellbound! game. I'm pretty sure it was the only time that I ever got to use the computer for homework as a child (this was back in the day when we had to handwrite all our homework—can I be admitted to a nursing home yet?) until I hit middle school and refused to ever set foot in school ever, ever again (and was subsequently enrolled into a "virtual" school and got my own computer (hello, digital age—you can cancel my nursing home application now)).

Anyway, I was an okay speller and I had fun playing Spellbound! but I considered the idea of a spelling bee rather foreign. And also the stuff of nightmares because...spelling...out loud...in front of an audience?!

See? Nightmares.

Nursing Homes

On Monday we went to a nursing home with some of our ukulele friends to do a little concert. The nursing home was decorated beautifully—with two gigantic Christmas trees in the lobby and a little bird-watching area for the kids to enjoy while they weren't playing. It was quite fun.

We played Jingle Bells, Away in a Manger, and Once There Was A Snowman. One of the girls also plays the violin so she played a couple of songs with her mom accompanying her on the grand piano (which was also just sitting there in the lobby). To finish off our concert we sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas with piano accompaniment once more. It was short and sweet and something that I really wanted our children to experience.

I remember going to nursing homes to perform throughout my childhood.

Once in grade three, our primary went and I remember that my mom made me sing O Tannenbaum all by myself, in the original German. My class at school had learned it for our school Christmas concert. It was one thing to sing that song on stage with my classmates. It was another thing to sing it standing all by myself in front of an audience of complete strangers. But I did it. And when I was finished and we were visiting with the patients at the nursing home, I remember someone asking me how I learned to speak German. So I said, "I don't speak German." And then the conversation dropped off suddenly into a long, awkward silence.

But overall it was a good experience, I guess.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Heiss Holiday Humbug 2013

The girls wanted to help make this year's Christmas newsletter, so I used some of their holiday doodles and managed to come up with [what I hope is] a cohesive design. The girls drew these on paper and later transferred them to cut-out pieces of cereal boxes—very professional—intending to give them to every single person in our entire extended family. We've since misplaced the ziploc baggy full of these unique ornaments. Rachel took them to school for show-and-tell and then...who knows.

If we find them before Christmas our family might be pleasantly surprised by some (rather rudimentary) homemade gifts. If not, they'll get a little taste of them with our newsletter. I took pictures of the girls' blueprints, manipulated them in photoshop, and stuck them in.

You can download the newsletter here.



Friday, December 13, 2013

What e'er thou art

I found this "LDS perpetual advent calendar" online (in a news "article," (or "news" article" (I'm not quite sure where to put those quotation marks) of all places) and printed it off so we could read a nice little story every day before Christmas. It's been nice so far but Andrew and I have already determined to make our own perpetual calendar for next year (or, at the rate I complete projects the year after (or even the year after that)). We'd prefer if the scripture/quote actually went along somewhat with the theme of the story. And we'd prefer if all the stories were...I dunno...fact checked.

The story for December 1st paid homage to a thoroughly debunked article claiming that The Twelve Days of Christmas was written as a way to secretly teach the catechism of the Catholic church to young English children after King Henry the Eighth caused the creation of a new church because he "wanted to sin and have a church justify his actions," which is a gross simplification of the whole situation. Catholics weren't banned from practicing their religion until after the death of King Henry, anyway, so I'm not sure why they're blaming him for that (as unsavory a character he may have been).

So, the story for December 1st annoyed me, and the story about candy canes, and Andrew skipped "The Three Trees," which I think is a sweet story (because it openly admits to being a folktale and makes no pretentious claims about being "the true meaning" of this or that) but is one that he just can't stand.

We also didn't like that they put the story of Joseph Smith's last Christmas on December 22nd rather than on December 23rd (which is his birthday). I mean, had they put it on December 7th I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but to put it the day before his birthday rather than right on it? That just looks like a mistake. There are rules for this sort of thing: if you're going to be off, be way off so that it looks like you did it on purpose. If you're so close but just a little off it looks like a glaring error.

And don't even get me started on the typesetting (crazy hyphenation all over the place).

I'm sure I sound rather picky now. But the truth is we have been enjoying reading the story each night. Most of the stories come from church magazines and are faith promoting and teach good lessons.

But the annoying ones are so annoying—some sort of theologic neologism. Take "The True Meaning of the Snowman," for example, which I saw in a catalogue once (and which you can see here). I find that sort of thing ridiculous. A snowman is a snowman. Ahem. Anyway...

Tonight's story was fairly interesting. It was called "Gifts for a Newborn King" by Geraldine A. Garretson, and was originally printed in The Friend in December 1992. While a little orientalist in nature, it was a well-researched article and was presented well for a young audience. Our girls were captivated, especially since we have a little box full of frankincense and myrrh sitting out by one of our nativities.

Our interest was piqued, however, when Andrew read this part: "'Myrrh, whose name means "bitter," comes from the Commiphora myrrha tree.' Myrrh means bitter?" Andrew asked. "Is that true? Are Miriam and myrrh from the same root?"

Turns out, they very well could be. We knew that Miriam meant bitter (and in fact battled with this knowledge for a while because who names their child 'bitter'? (Probably the same people who name their firstborn after livestock.)) we just hadn't linked the root of the word to myrrh (which does, in fact, mean bitter).

Miriam was thrilled to bits over this newfound knowledge, completely over the moon. Ecstatic, really.

She is in the Christmas story. She has her own tree. She was a gift for baby Jesus. Could her life get any better? Probably not!

"Big deal," Rachel said. "My name means sheep. Sheep are in the Christmas story, too."

And thus a gloriously hilarious scene unfolded in our living room, wherein Rachel bleated unceasingly while Miriam did her best to enact sap oozing out of a Commiphora myrrha tree.

What e'er thou art, kids, Act well thy part.

Bits and Pieces

Today we said goodbye to our Pop-Onz. We inherited them from some friends in Egypt. The toys were meant to be put in storage back in the States. Instead they got shipped to Egypt and a box of sheets was put into storage. Our friends gave us the toys and bought new sheets. We brought the toys with us when we moved back to the States a couple of years later.

Although we gave most of our toys away (and then I think they were subsequently stolen off the street, right Bridget?) before we moved, this particular set we felt was worthy to drag halfway around the world with us. Our kids have been enjoying it for five years now, in three different houses, in two different countries. But it's time to say goodbye...because the truth is that we're making room for Christmas gifts. Pop-Onz are fun(-nish) but we think that the "replacement" toy will be more fun. At any rate I hope it will stimulate more of a desire to construct things (Pop-Onz don't offer much in the way of creative building). We'll see.

Either way, this set of toys enjoyed its last romp around our living room this morning. We found a new home for it so it will continue to be played with, just not at our house.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Caroling

Yesterday for Family Home Evening we baked some white-chocolate-chip-candy-cane cookies while Daddy was at his last HOA meeting of the year (and basically ever because he resigned (which we're all kind of happy about (not that it was hard; it was just another thing and we don't need another thing cluttering up our calendar right now (grad school is enough for us)))).

We were hoping to go caroling to deliver them to our neighbours but, honestly, baking cookies with three little ones was enough of a project for the evening. Rachel is, thankfully, old enough to actually be helpful, though sometimes she wants to help a little more than I'd like her to. She insisted on cracking the eggs, for example, which might've gone a little faster and been a little less messy if I had cracked the eggs myself (but I know it's important for her to do these things so I let her even if it means I have to back away and take deep cleansing breaths). Patience is one of those things I'm constantly working on and since mine was all used up by the time Andrew came home, we just read stories and got ready for bed instead of going caroling.

Today Miriam and I made up plates and printed out labels (so we'd remember who got which plate) and when Daddy came home from work/school we went out caroling. Our song of choice was "Jingle Bells" since both Rachel and I are pretty good at playing that on the ukulele.

We also made some little sleigh bell shakers for Miriam and Benjamin to jingle during the song since the bells that we ordered (three weeks ago, but who's counting) finally arrived.

When Rachel asked if she could bring her ukulele along, Andrew originally said no (even though I was planning on bringing them), and Rachel said, "That would be really dumb, Dad, to just go and sing at people's houses without any sort of instrument actually making music. Like, no piano or ukulele or trumpet or anything? No one does that."

"You can bring your ukulele," I told her. "I was planning on that, anyway, but when we go out with the Adamsons next week we probably won't bring our ukuleles. We'll just sing a cappella, which means without having any instrument playing along. It's a thing."

So, tonight we headed out with our ukuleles and sleigh bells and delivered 11 plates of cookies to various families in our neighbourhood and beyond.

I will admit that I felt a little awkward to ring people's doorbells and expect them listen to our family perform but I think that everyone we caroled to enjoyed it. It was fun to see their face light up with the surprise at having a five-person band appear on their doorstep (not that we're incredibly talented...just that it's fun to have music delivered to your door). A few families said they had never been caroled to (it's a dying art, apparently) and others shared some memories of caroling with us (our neighbour's family would drive their tractor around with a trailer on the back filled with hay bails for seating; they'd drive around collecting neighours to increase their caroling choir as they drove around their agrarian neighbourhood (he said he wished he had a tractor so we could do the same)).

Our home teacher invited us in for a chat, even though he'd been home sick all day. His wife had to put the dog outside because the girls were absolutely freaking out about it. But all three kids enjoyed the cats. Benjamin was playing peek-a-boo with one of their younger cats. It was slinking around the living room and he was chasing it, yelling, "Boo!" He had a great time!

They sent us home with a Christmas treat for ourselves, which Benjamin carried to the car for us. He fell asleep on the way home but was still clutching the little treat bag. I tried to remove it from his fist so that I could unbuckle his seatbelt but the minute he sensed it slipping out of his grip he woke up and snatched it back, declaring, "MY! MY! MY!"

It was certainly a fun evening and I hope the girls made some good memories. Caroling is something that I'd like to become more of a tradition for our family and whether or not Andrew is as enthusiastic about that idea as I am he's certainly being a good sport about it.

I don't remember ever going caroling in Alberta as a family, but I did think back to many years ago when my family once went caroling in British Columbia. We had just made it to the Anderson's house, I believe, and poor Patrick (who was maybe two) got sick and threw up all over the van so instead of merely caroling we ended up borrowing cleaning supplies so that we could get the interior of the van to the point where we could stand getting back inside.

I'm sure that memory surfaced only because of the situation I found myself in last night (ie. covered in vomit). I'm pretty sure Benjamin must've eaten a bad apple now because he was fairly fine all day (aside from being a grumpy boar) and no one else is feeling even remotely ill. With any luck it will stay that way!

First time for everything

I've reentered one of the only stages of babyhood/toddlerhood that I never miss when over. Usually I miss things. I miss how fragile and dependent newborns are. I miss those first smiles. I miss head holding/rolling/crawling/walking before it becomes the new normal. While I'm excited about and embrace each new milestone, I miss, and mourn, each passing stage as my babies grow up because I love babies and when they grow up it means they aren't babies anymore. I love my kids, too, of course.

But...babies. I love them. Everything is fascinating to them all the time and they're so soft and cuddly and new. (And, you know, really, really exhausting, but still...)

There are some stages I could do without, however, and Benjamin has just entered one of those stages.

Around two o'clock in the morning, Benjamin started fussing. I told myself he'd just go to sleep, but he kept not doing it and instead got more and more worked up. Eventually I woke Andrew up to retrieve Benjamin for me because I simply could not get out of bed and Andrew's been blessed with the ability to sleepwalk. He can get up, get the baby, climb back in bed and be fast asleep again all within a minute and a half. I can't. Not that I fall asleep any faster if Andrew gets the baby for me but at least then I don't have to get out of bed, right?

As Andrew handed Benjamin to me I said, "Tsk. Why are you so fussy tonight? You're supposed to be sleeping, Baby! Ew! And you smell funny. Why do you smell funny?"

"Sorry," Andrew mumbled.

"I was talking to Benjamin," I clarified. "You're fine. Thanks for getting the baby."

"Yup," Andrew sighed, and with that he clocked out and was immediately fast asleep once again.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ukulele Christmas

We attended our ward Christmas party tonight, where our little ukulele choir performed two musical numbers.

Our first song was Away in a Manger (the arrangement from the Primary Children's Songbook). For this one we had the littlest kids (including Rachel and Miriam (who are on the front row, farthest left and farthest right)) focus on playing the C chord rather than switching to G7. There were so many changes in the song that it was just too frustrating for them. Rachel's been practicing and she's getting better.


Friday, December 06, 2013

When it's cold outside, I've got the month of...

I did no little housework today because we spent the entire day outside (or at least as much of it as we could). It's December 6th and it was—get this—77°F (25°C)!

We pulled out shorts and sandals and partied like it was summer vacation...by hanging Christmas lights on the house (because that's totally what I do during my summer vacation) and gardening (because that's something that must be done year round here, evidently).

Actually, we spent the morning at playgroup and then spent the afternoon outside with the neighbour kids (at one point we had nine kids in our yard (which is pretty good odds considering how many kids live on our street (not many more than nine))).

The boys next door took turns helping me with the lights and corralling Benjamin away from the street while all the little girls played. When I finished putting the lights up they organized a round of hide-and-seek for everyone. They're very gentlemanly and call me ma'am and everything (which truthfully cracks me up a bit but I appreciate their manners nonetheless).

We were outside for about an hour before neighbourhood kids started coming home from school (two hours before Rachel came home from school) and stayed outside until nearly 5:00.

Inflation

Last night we had our Relief Society Christmas Dinner, which was lovely. This morning they sent us all of the recipes, which was lovelier except that I'm not sure my family would ever eat the goodness we consumed last night (which is why it's sometimes wonderful to dine in a room full of grown women rather than crammed around the kitchen table with picky children (and husbands)).

Anyway, one of my friends was asked to give a message about simplifying Christmas. The essence of her message was that Christmas is about building memories and coming closer together as a family and drawing nearer to the Lord. I agree with that message 100%.

However, there was a little bit of her message that rubbed me wrong. She told a story of her mother's childhood. The family had had a difficult year financially and so for Christmas they really had to budget for things and instead of just getting whatever they wanted, the parents gave each of their seven children $10 to spend "on everyone—on each other, on their parents, on their friends."

"Only ten dollars!" my friend exclaimed. "Can you imagine only having $10 to spend on everyone for Christmas?"

And, actually, I can. But my friend and I come from much different backgrounds.

However, as I pondered this story it sat more and more uncomfortably with me. This evening it finally dawned on me why. The answer was a single word: inflation.

So I pulled up the CPI Inflation Calculator and gave a few numbers a whirl.

Now, I don't know precisely what year this story took place, but I can take a few guesses:

Having $10 in your pocket in 1960 would equal having $78.90 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1965 would equal having $74.14 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1970 would equal having $60.19 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1975 would equal having $43.41 in your pocket in 2013.
Having $10 in your pocket in 1980 would equal having $28.34 in your pocket in 2013.

I hesitate to go much farther delve farther into "the past" than 1960 or much farther into "the future" than 1980 since my friend is just a few years older than me and I'm fairly sure our parents are close-ish in age. I don't know how old her mother was when the story happened, however, only that there were seven kids at home ranging from high school to younguns.

I guess my point is that stories like this tend to feel a little hyperbolic to me—like walking to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, with no shoes! My point is that her mom wasn't given $10 today; she was given $10 decades ago (unless my friend accounted for inflation but didn't tell us—in which case 1980: $3.53; 1975: $2.30; 1970: $1.66; 1965: $1.35; 1960: $1.27 (and that would've been difficult to budget)). I think having only $10 to spend in 1980 would've been very difficult as well. But having anything between $50 and $70? That sounds fine to me—generous, even, since teenagers have the ability to make money on their own and little kids aren't expected to buy elaborate gifts for their siblings (is anyone expected to do that? I hope not...).

Granted, it would've killed her narrative a bit to throw in an "after accounting for inflation" clause, but I think it's a necessary part of the story because the question of spending $70 on your family for Christmas versus spending $10 on your family for Christmas is huge, at least in my eyes.

The point of her lesson wasn't entirely lost on me; I did appreciate her thoughts on simplifying Christmas. However, I just couldn't get that little detail out of my mind. Sometimes I can't stop myself from wondering about these things. Sometimes they make the lesson of the story less applicable to life (such as in this instance, at least for me). Sometimes they make lesson of the story more applicable, such as the story of President Monson misplacing a five-dollar bill during The Great Depression.

The story is good all on its own (you should read it), but what if I told you that:

Having $5 in your pocket in 1930 would equal having $69.92 in your pocket in 2013?
Having $5 in your pocket in 1935 would equal having $85.24 in your pocket in 2013?
Having $5 in your pocket in 1940 would equal having $83.41 in your pocket in 2013?

The "Five-Dollar Miracle" isn't a cute story about a little boy who lost a little pocket change. It's a story about a hard-working and now desperate young boy who lost nearly one-hundred dollars (I'm going to assume President Monson didn't have $5 in 1930 since he was born in 1927; it seems more likely this story would've taken place between 1935 and 1940).

That changes the story for me quite a bit because...inflation. It's mind-boggling.

A boy and [someone else's] dog

Benjamin's love of dogs is as intense as the girls's dislike. They see a dog, they scream (with fear), they run (far, far away from it), they cower behind me (and I...don't like dogs either). Benjamin sees a dog, he screams (with joy), he runs (toward the dog), and gives it a great big hug.

He's especially fond of Cody, who belongs to one of our friends. We were over there for playgroup today and he was waving at Cody from behind the sliding door. When Cody came inside Benjamin started panting and signing dog while running over to greet him. He just loves Cody!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Immunizations, Benjamin at 18 months, Miriam at 4 years

With the recent measles outbreak in Southern Alberta, as well as many reports of whooping cough outbreaks the past few years, vaccination has been a hot topic. Hotter than usual, at least.

We're pretty keen on immunizations at our house, having dragged our family around the world. For one thing, polio, a disease of the past in many places of the world, is still alive and well in others (which means, essentially, that it could potentially make its way back to places it has been eradicated from). Egypt—a place we called home for two years and where our second child was born—hasn't exactly eradicated polio yet. For another thing, we weren't nearly comfortable enough with the medical system to trust they'd be able to treat any horrible disease we could've contracted. I'm not sure I'm that confident in the medical system here to think doctors/technology can just "cure" us of these terrible diseases scientists have painstakingly created immunizations against in order to protect us from ever contracting the disease.

We plan on returning to lesser developed countries in the future so we need to keep our immunizations current. You probably want to keep your immunizations current as well because you never know what germs are stowing away in that airline passenger's cough. I'm just saying...

Anyway, having moved several times in the past eight years has meant relocating our medical records time and time again. This is kind of a hassle.

Different places have different immunization schedules and before a couple of days ago I didn't know there was a reason for this. But, honestly, that's because they are "different countries with different populations." The doctors within those countries do their best to create a schedule to ensure the best possibility for herd immunity and so forth.

I did question this once when we lived in Egypt. We were there on a student visa and were never granted permission to work so we were living off the savings that we'd managed to scrape up while Andrew finished his undergraduate degree. Having a baby there was relatively inexpensive—our insurance covered everything but our $50 deductible (yes, you read that right). However, they wouldn't cover "routine care" which meant well-baby visits would be entirely out-of-pocket (who dreamed up this insurance plan?). The vaccination schedule our doctor put us on was a little more rigorous than the one we'd seen in the States. Our doctor wanted us to come in every single month. Every. Single. Month.

The cost wasn't astronomical, but it would've ended up being about $100 per month just to see the doctor, not including the shots, since we weren't able/about to go to the "local" clinic and had to use a private doctor.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Decorating for Christmas (Bah! Humbug!)

This year we've been slowly decorating for Christmas, emphasis on the slow. I can't emphasize enough how Benjamin is into everything, always. Those of you who've had tiny tots probably understand.

We did drag our Christmas boxes down from the attic and hunted through them to pull out the most important and exciting decorations we own: the nativity and the advent calendar. We actually have several nativities. We put the Ghanaian one on a shelf in the living room, as well as the ones from Israel. One from Italy went on the mantel. And I still had two left to set up somewhere (and others that are still boxed away).

The two that I had left to set up were made up of so many little parts and I had so many little hands flying to "help" that I was looking for a way to get out of the mess, and quick. Then I spied the advent calendar and inspiration struck.

Our advent calendar is a little cabinet filled with drawers. Working quickly, I filled each drawer with a character from the nativity, told the girls they could take turns opening the drawers. Every day they'd find a piece to "their" set for the year and would be able to arrange it however they'd like.

Decorating time was over. It was now personal time.

Can you bake a pie?

Give me a week and I might just be able to—bake a pie, that is—because wasn't it a week ago that I finally cooked up our Halloween pumpkins and turned them into goo? Yes, it was.

On Monday I finally got around to making pie crust (using this recipe: grating frozen butter—genius). The kids "helped," of course, which might explain why this process took a week.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

For a minute...

Some moments in time are so very sweet. Just yesterday I had one of these moments in my house. I think we often have these moments in our house, but this moment was particularly sweet.

My friend Marian was over. She's the primary president. I'm the secretary. And we were trying to hammer out next year's budget. We were so absorbed in excel spreadsheets that we were mostly ignoring our children, who were running around the house playing. They were playing quite nicely together, which was part of the reason we were able to ignore them so well.

Suddenly, peals of laughter shattered our concentration. We turned to look at the children who were clustered around an air vent. The heat was on and Miriam had gotten out some feathers. They were setting the feathers on the vent and letting the hot air blast them up above their heads, and they were doing those sweet baby belly-laughs that kids seem to grow out of too soon.

Marcella is two. Benjamin is one. They're just old enough to find that sort of thing hilarious (or as Miriam would say, EL-arious). Miriam, at four, is just old enough to find that sort of thing fascinating and was working out all sorts of scientific methods and hypotheses to test before the air turned off.

It was one of those moments when you think to yourself, "There may be feathers all over the house and I'm sure I am going to regret that later (especially when Benjamin finds both the honey and the feathers and does his own experimenting)* but right now? This is perfect."

*Curse you ability-to-climb-on-the-table, and no-more-napping! A pox on both your households!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

All she wants for Christmas is to lose a tooth

Yesterday morning Rachel woke us up to look at her teeth: they're loose. Finally!

Not all of them, of course, but her wee little central incisors are finally starting to wiggle around. A bit.

This girl has been waiting for this to happen since she started kindergarten. She's the last of all her friends to lose a tooth. Everyone in her school class, everyone in her primary class, everyone in the whole entire world has lost a tooth...except for her.

I remember feeling like that, too, and was acutely aware of everything going on in my mouth. I actually announced in the middle of grade one that I must've lost a tooth because I had new teeth growing in—my six year molars. My teacher said it was impossible but she wrote my name up on the tooth chart anyway. Turns out she was right. Those new molars weren't replacing anything; they were just coming in.

Rachel's pretty aware of her mouth, too—even though her class doesn't keep a chart of who and who hasn't lost teeth in any given month—and we've been putting teething gel on her gums where her molars are breaking through because she's been complaining about how terrible it is.

But this wiggling thing? This is new. And she's ecstatic!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last post of NaBloPoMo

Well, it's been another successful NaBloPoMo, I suppose. I'm fairly positive I wrote a post everyday but I probably won't go back to check that I did. This time of year is crazy busy! Why can't NaBloPoMo (or, more importantly, NaNoWriMo) be in a boring month like...like March? Or August?

Those months are typically pretty quiet (unless Easter is abnormally early...and unless...who am I kidding? What ever happens in August?).

But November is out of the way and I am slowly hacking away at my to-do list. Yesterday I finished crocheting that blanket. Today I finished the IVS newsletter (though it could still come back to me with some edits, I suppose). Just a million things left to do before the New Year!

I suppose it doesn't help that primary/church is inordinately busy this time of year as well. This week we have both the Relief Society Christmas Dinner and the Ward Christmas Party. The girls and I are playing our ukuleles for the ward party. In a couple of weeks I'll be singing in sacrament meeting with a friend (in Russian for the Relief Society President's son who is getting off his mission (he's in Novosibirsk, Russia) in just a couple of weeks). I'm pretty excited about that, but it's just another thing to coordinate.

In primary we're trying to get all the classes arranged for next year—with teachers and manuals and so forth. I feel like a lot of that is my responsibility...because I'm the secretary...so it is my responsibility. And that's fine. It's just a lot of work.

To top it off, we ordered Christmas decorations to give to the children and were under the impression that they'd come assembled but instead received a box of kits that we have to put together. They're not incredibly complicated but they're fiddly, and it's just another thing to do.

It seems like to-do lists are the theme of my blog lately, doesn't it?

I'm sure that things will settle down soon (or not) and we'll be able to hop in and enjoy the Christmas spirit.

In happy news, Benjamin's been hives-free since Tuesday or Wednesday and he slept through the night the night before last and only woke up once last night so I'm feeling more human again.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Multi-generational blanket

After Grandma Sharon died, the family found a baby blanket she'd been working on for Auntie Em's baby boy (who is expected to arrive in January). Since no one else in the family knows how to crochet, Andrew brought the unfinished blanket back to me when he came home from the funeral and after a few false starts I finally figured out the pattern and got to work.


I finished putting the border on it this evening while we watched Elf as a family.

Pictures

This afternoon we sneaked out to take some family pictures. I asked the girls to pick out a favourite outfit so that they'd be comfortable in whatever they were wearing and then I tweaked them a bit to make sure everything matched-ish. We're talking individual outfits matching, not entire families matching. I don't know how people even pull off those matchy-matchy photos. I mean, seriously! How do you get your kids to wear what you want them to wear and then to look happy about it?

We can't pull that pulled together look off so we just dressed as ourselves. This year we decided we'd do pictures at Stagville. They have a bunch of fun old buildings to pose by; I was actually thinking the rock wall by the family cemetery would be picturesque.

Unfortunately, Stagville was closed today...for Thanksgiving. Now, I have no problem with places closing for holidays or even for holiday weekends. I just wish they'd be a little more transparent about it on their websites so that we don't have to find out by coming up to a locked gate. I mean, how difficult would it be to say on their website that they're open from 10 AM to 4 PM Tuesday through Saturday, though they close on whatever holidays as well.

Apparently really hard. Because this isn't the first time we've run into this issue with historic sites in Durham.

Anyway, we decided we'd just do pictures at the Eno, even though golden hour was upon us and we were, literally, burning daylight. Stagville and West Point on the Eno are at least fifteen minutes away from each other. We were in a bit of a rush to set up once we'd arrived at the Eno.

Andrew and I still have to go through and decide which ones are our favourites and then doctor them up a bit, but in the meantime, here are some quickies we took on our point-and-shoot camera. A lot of them are bloopers but a few of them turned out alright.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Festivities

After a rough night with Benjamin (again) I was trying to go back to sleep this morning when I remembered that I'd said we'd attend a Turkey Trot that the mother of a child in Rachel's class hosts every year. It's just an informal fun run for the kids as well as a diaper drive (and although we're mostly a cloth diaper family, I support babies everywhere having clean nappies to wear (unless you're into EC because that's awesome, too)). We brought a little package of diapers as our entrance fee.

The kids got to make racing numbers as well as signs for their parents to hold for them while they raced around the park. Here we are before the race, enjoying a little snack, and trying to keep warm (the girls didn't have their good coats because they were still in the wash from yesterday when they played in the mud).


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Eve

This morning the girls went out to play in the rain. They got soaking wet and impeccably dirty.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Preparation

This year we didn't carve a jack-o-lantern. The girls painted pumpkins at school instead and then those pumpkins sat on our front porch with paint flaking off them for the last month. They weren't carved so there was no rush to cook them up. At least, there wasn't a rush until suddenly (and not so suddenly) it was the week of Thanksgiving!

Yesterday one of the only things I accomplished was pureeing our pumpkins. We washed the paint off, chopped them in half, scooped the seeds out, cooked them, and blended them, all in one afternoon.


Monday, November 25, 2013

End of the semester


  • We're having company over for dinner on Tuesday night. 
  • We're having the missionaries over for dinner on Wednesday night. 
  • I have to put together the newsletter for the International Viola Society.
  • I have to write our family's Christmas newsletter.
  • I have to make our family's Christmas newsletter pretty.
  • I have to edit a book about Metro Prystai.
  • I have to decorate for Christmas.

And that's all on top of holding the baby 24/7. I actually just put him down—in his own bed—and I'm kinda hoping he'll stay there for a little while. If he does, it will be the first time I put him down (basically—though Andrew did take a turn at Literacy Night tonight and there were a couple of times he permitted himself to stand on a chair beside me while I worked in the kitchen) since 2:00 yesterday afternoon.

So I'm feeling a bit frazzled. I'm feeling a bit like I was either kicked or screamed at all night (and day) long. I'm feeling a bit like my husband texted me five minutes before he was supposed to be home to say that he was just leaving campus. I'm feeling a bit like we had pancakes for dinner tonight, and not just any pancakes, either—we had Bisquick pancakes for dinner.

It's just one of those days. One of those days when you give the baby Benadryl before putting him to bed because he still has hives. Still. Which might explain all the kicking and screaming.

Anyway, I wasn't exactly feeling like company so I asked Andrew what he had in mind for dinner on Tuesday. I figure if he invites the company over he can at least pitch in with the cooking. Unfortunately, Tuesday is also the last day of class.

"What should we make for dinner tomorrow," I asked him on the way home from Rachel's school this evening. "I was thinking lasagna, but..."

"I was thinking lasagna, too!" he said. "But...you don't really have time to make lasagna, do you?"

"I don't," I said, shaking my head gravely. "Not if Benjamin is as clingy as he was today."

"Yeah. You have to hold a baby and write a poem and lots of stuff like that," Andrew agreed.

"Are you making fun of me?" I asked, unamused. I might get a little defensive when I'm running low on sleep.

"No!" he said. "Benjamin's been awful. You can't get anything done with him around!"

He knows this because it was finally his turn to take Benjamin the last two hours of church (and I miscalculated the calendar somehow and Benjamin's first week in nursery isn't until December 8th—for some reason I was thinking (hoping?) December 3rd was a Sunday—but I talked to the head nursery leader and she said we could go ahead and call December 1st Benjamin's first day in nursery because she's awesome).

"This is what I'm thinking," Andrew continued. "I'll just go to the store after we get the kids in bed and grab a frozen lasagna. We'll be super lazy."

"Sounds good to me!" I readily agreed.

"Oh, by the way... Can you edit the paper I have due tomorrow?"

So that's how it is. Butter me up before popping the question.

The end of the semester is always rough.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is it Christmas yet?

Christmas is just one month away but it's not even Thanksgiving yet. With Thanksgiving so late in the month even Andrew has been lax about Christmas creep. By November 29th last year we'd already drunk up a full week's worth of Christmas cheer. Next year's Christmas forecast looks to be about the same. This year, though? This year's been a little dry so far and we've been sneaking in little tastes of Christmas here and there.

The easiest way to get Christmas music in our house was forming a little ukulele choir. Our home teacher is mostly responsible for this. He purchased ukuleles and gifted them to several families in the ward (there are, I believe, 21 of us (though I'm not sure where all the ukuleles came from)) and asked us to get together and learn some songs. We'll be playing at the ward Christmas party in a couple of weeks but we started practicing for that in October. Andrew can't really say no to practicing Christmas music like he can to simply listening to Christmas music for enjoyment.

However, he also allowed Miriam to select Jingle Bells to be sung during family home evening this past week—before the prayer, a time we usually reserve for reverent songs.

"You're getting soft," I told him.

"I'm not getting soft," he insisted. "It's just not worth the tears."

In other words...he's getting soft.

This evening Rachel and I played the songs we've been working on for our parents/grandparents on Skype and Andrew pulled out Miriam's ukulele and joined in—and we were playing Christmas songs! (Miriam wasn't playing because she's been refusing to practice so she doesn't know when to play her part (we've just been focusing on the C chord with her) and I wanted the music to sound...like music (because I'm vain/mean/whatever). She can play for her grandparents later. After she actually sits down to practice).

We've been reading Christmas stories for a while now and the girls have not-so-secretly been designing Christmas ornaments (especially after reading A Christmas Spider's Miracle (a beautiful book based on this legend)) and I've even gotten away with whistling Christmas songs.

Andrew has let each of these activities slide without comment, except perhaps the whistling of Christmas tunes (but he's even been lax about enforcing that rule).

I guess you could say we're ready for Christmas at our house. We're ready for some magic. We're ready for lights and music and childhood traditions. We're ready for focusing on the Savior.

The only thing we're not ready for is the tree. Oh, boy! That puppy is going up on Christmas Eve if I get my wish this year (Benjamin is seriously into everything and I'm not sure I can handle it). Chances are I won't get my wish but I can say with confidence that the tree is not going up immediately after Thanksgiving dinner (which is when Andrew swears it should be done). No, the tree will be going up much later than that!

And now that I finally have the baby in bed (is it 11:30? Why, yes. Yes, it is!) I'm going to settle down with my fuzzy slippers on to write some more of our Christmas poem.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fist Bumps and other things

Today I have a couple of videos. The first is our family "getting ready for bed." Sometimes bedtime takes a long time.



This second one is specifically for Auntie Josie, who used to do a similar thing at the dinner table. We called it "The Hulk."



Friday, November 22, 2013

A busy day

Miriam was invited to a birthday party for her little friend Matthew this week and has been looking forward to it ever since I told her about it, which was nine days ago when she was originally invited. I know several moms who try not to tell their kids about fun activities in advance so that they don't have to deal with the children's mounting excitement while they wait for the day to come. I'm not really like that, though. Unless I specifically plan a surprise, I usually just tell my kids what's up. We talk about special events during family calendar time. And we say, "No, it's not Friday yet," way too often. But I like it that way because research shows that merely anticipating fun things can boost happiness.

Sure, it's hard when plans change. But "plans change" is almost a mantra in our house. Learning to deal with disappointment is probably healthy for kids, right?

This time, fortunately, our plans didn't fall through (unlike yesterday's playgroup fiasco) and we made it out the door by 9:30 in the morning! Miriam picked out a special outfit to wear.


Hand-me-down dress with a stain on the shoulder from that one time Rachel biffed it? Check.

Hand-me-down tights with a hole in one toe because Rachel wore them all the time? Check.

Razzle-dazzle headband that doubles as a pirate eye patch? Check.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Contemplative Time

What I really should be doing is cleaning my house because my visiting teachers are coming over and my house currently looks hey-at-least-the-kids-are-alive level rather than I'm-a-fully-functioning-responsible-adult level. I think that's because we've been clinging to sanity this week; but hopefully things are on the upswing.

Part of the reason our house is falling apart at the seams is because the kids have been digging in their heels about doing any chore. Our obedience bean system kind of fell apart, so we had a family night lesson on everybody pitching in (I feel like we do that a couple of times a year (at least)) and the girls seemed re-excited about helping out around the house. They want to keep the obedience bean system, but we're going to add another facet to the program (checklists for each room so they know what "clean" entails).

Unfortunately, their enthusiasm had dissolved by Tuesday (and since FHE is on Mondays that means they weren't excited about chores for very long) after school.

"Hayley didn't misbehave at school today, so can we go to the park with her today?" Rachel asked.

They'd arranged to play at the park on the bus yesterday but then Hayley's mom found a note in her backpack from her teacher that wasn't exactly positive so Hayley had to cancel, so we went to the park by ourselves.

"Unfortunately, I have dinner on the stove already and Benjamin is sleeping and has been so miserable today. I don't think we can go," I explained. "But even if we could go, there'd be chores we'd have to do before we could play."

At this Rachel slouched down into what we call "the gorilla" pose. She stomped her gorilla feet and rolled her gorilla eyes and moaned her gorilla groan.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Guys and Dolls

Miriam loves playing with Kit. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn't get Kit down/out to play. Both Kit and Rose (Rachel's doll) sleep in a doll bunk bed next to the girls' full-size bunk bed because now that Miriam has a doll all of her own Rachel's beginning to play with dolls more. I'm actually quite happy about this because I think playing with dolls is as important as engineering toys (which is why Benjamin is free to push the hot pink doll stroller around and why the girls play with hex bugs and toy trains).

Aside from her love of Baby Norah, Rachel hasn't ever shown an interest in dolls. Until now.

Still, Miriam (who, incidentally doesn't have a "favourite" doll that she can't sleep without) has always shown much more interest in the "nurturing" games that dolls inspire. She loves dressing, feeding, nursing, changing, rocking, and playing with baby dolls.

Yesterday Miriam, influenced by the American Girl Doll catalogue we received in the mail (addressed to the girl who lived here before us), picked out an outfit that she thought matched Kit's outfit so they could be twins for the day.

Kit accompanied us to the playground after school.



Oatmeal bath

Benjamin insured that bath time was eminent by smearing dinner all over his face (carrot/lentil soup).

Hives and carrots

We're still battling hives today. They've moved off his tummy and are now on his sides, arms, legs, and back. And he's a little less happy about them. I'm trying to get up the courage to try an oatmeal bath, perhaps before bed to help soothe his skin (because he hasn't been sleeping well).


Monday, November 18, 2013

Mystery rash

Thanks to our dear doctor friends (one of whom made a house call—on his day off, no less) we've determined that Benjamin is suffering from either eczema or hives. It's not too serious...though we'll have to be watching for triggers now to see if he's allergic to anything. I can't think of anything particularly out of the ordinary that he's come in contact with/eaten recently.


He doesn't seem too bothered by it.


My friend Addi suggested that it might be fifth disease (since that's going around) but he doesn't have a rash on his cheeks (other suggestions were roseola, which Miriam had, and which I think Benjamin has already had, and measles (which is rampaging around in southern Alberta) but I think we're pretty safe from that) and the rash was mostly confined to his stomach.

But another friend looked up fifth disease since her daughter had the bright red cheeks indicative of fifth disease and has come to the conclusion that not only is her daughter suffering from fifth disease—she, herself, has it! She was sick with a high fever last week and recently began experiencing joint pain and was worried she was developing rheumatoid arthritis or something. Now she's hoping it's just fifth disease and will go away...in 1–3 weeks to a few months. That's still a long time to suffer from constant joint pain, but I suppose it's better than always suffering from joint pain.

She said stumbling upon the conversation on facebook was an answer to prayer.

I love small miracles like that. Like finding an answer in a facebook feed. Or like having a friend volunteer her doctor-husband to make a house call on his day off because you're at home worried about your baby but just can't bring yourself to face the outside world (Miriam was not in the mood to leave the house and I wasn't in the mood to make her and because your baby desperately needed a nap and you needed to be home to meet the school bus) and because you didn't want to go into the clinic again (between our trip to the ER and the follow-up visit, I'm quite confident we spent eight hours at the hospital/doctor's office last week (so much of the waiting (which probably explains why Miriam dug her heels in when I asked her to get dressed so we could take Benjamin to see her friend's dad, the doctor))).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sundays

The semester is winding down, and that's why I'm feverishly writing at 11:45 PM (rather than at 10:30 when I finally got Benjamin in bed)—because Andrew's been feverishly writing and I've been feverishly editing his stuff for him and demanding that he rewrite what he's already written.

We went to church today, naturally, and I was stuck with Benjamin again. Not stuck with him in the sense that I mind being with him (because he's really quite a charming boy) but stuck with him in the sense that our ward does a pretty good job of only giving one parent (of a pre-nursery aged baby) an intense Sunday calling (such as working in the primary, as I do), while giving the other parent a weekday calling (such as working with the youth) or a less-intense Sunday calling (such as teaching a lesson once a month in Elder's Quorum (EQ), which Andrew does).

I tallied up the number of weeks I was "stuck" with Benjamin and got to five. Five straight weeks of tending Benjamin through two hours of church and doing all the stuff I usually do in primary.

Andrew taught EQ the week before he left for Utah.
Then he was in Utah.
Then Rachel was sick so he stayed home with her.
Then he taught EQ.
Then he taught EQ again (because they haven't gotten another co-teacher for Andrew after the last one was given a different calling)

Sundays have been feeling quite exhausting!

The good (and bad) news is that this was Benjamin's second to last week before he enters nursery. I'm at once thrilled to bits and torn to pieces over this because he'll be in nursery (finally, thank goodness!) but he'll be in nursery (which means he's morphing from baby to boy right before my very eyes).

I think the larger part of me is grateful to not have to chase after him for three straight hours, mostly because he's recently turned into a stool-pushing, furniture-climbing maniac and is always getting into everything.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Another walk

This afternoon we went for a little walk along the Eno and also checked off our last North Carolina adventure. The Mangum house and the photo museum were open, so we toured both of those before going on our walk. Unlike the mill, which had to basically be rebuilt after it was mostly swept away in a flood, the house is mostly original. They even have a lot of the original furniture. They have an old picture of the front room sitting in the front room and have the furniture arranged identically to how it was in the picture.

One of the Mangum sons was a photographer. He turned the second floor of the tobacco pack barn into a studio, complete with a dark room. It was neat to see his photographs. I've never seen so many old pictures of people smiling toothy grins before!

Here are Rachel and Benjamin in front of the tobacco-pack-barn-turned-photography-museum:


Christmas shopping—finished!

I just finished Christmas shopping for the kids and it's not even Black Friday yet! (Although I still might need to find some new pants for Benjamin since I think he's entering that age of boyhood where pants end up too thrashed to pass down. I just went through our box of awaiting hand-me-downs and found approximately ten thousand shirts that would fit him but only a handful of pants. So I might still have to do a little shopping...but not much (and certainly not on Black Friday)).

I've been diligently checking Craigslist for about a year now, trying to find a swing set that would fit our budget. Many of the ones posted are far too expensive for a second hand swing set ("We bought this swing set ten years ago for $700 and totally trashed it—we'd like to sell it for $600. This is an extremely good deal! You must dismantle yourself. It might need a little TLC, a few new boards, and a couple new swings. Don't pass up this opportunity!") and all the ones that were within our budget (that weren't junky) would be gone by the time I replied.

This morning I found a darling swing set posted in the free section! And the post was only six minutes old! I immediately replied, and then I held my breath and waited.

Eventually I had to exhale because there was no response.

I knocked off a couple of things on my to-do list before checking my email again. Still no response.

I checked the posting again to see if it was there and it wasn't. It had been removed.

"I guess we didn't get it," I said sadly to Andrew.

"Oh, well," he said. "We'll keep trying."

But then I saw a message pop up on my screen. It was the owner of the swing set, offering it to us!

I almost cried. Literally. There were tears welling up in my eyes.

"Andrew! We got it!" I squealed.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rock, Paper, Scissors

After dinner Andrew and I started clearing off the table. He put away the leftover pancakes. I put away the milk and the juice and the water. He Cleared the plates. I washed the griddle. He started taking care of the bacon grease. I started loading the dishwasher, but then stopped. 

We had to take care of the thing we were ignoring/avoiding/dreading because it was beginning to squawk incessantly.



Me: Rock-Paper-Scissors? Loser washes off the baby.
Andrew: Deal. Best two out of three.

Round 1: Rock vs. scissors (+1 Nancy)
Round 2: Scissors vs. paper (+1 Nancy)

Me: Sweet!
Andrew: No! Best three out of five!
Me: Fine.

Round 3: Rock vs. paper (+1 Andrew)
Round 4: Paper vs. scissors (+1 Andrew)
Round 5: Rock vs. scissors (+1 Nancy)

Andrew: Four out of seven?
Me: Absolutely not.
Andrew: Oh, come on—it would be like the World Series.
Me: No.
Andrew: Please?
Me: No.
Andrew: But...
Me: No.
Andrew: I...
Me: No.
Andrew: What...
Me: No, no, and no. I won, fair and square.

As winner, it was my privilege to load the dishwasher while Andrew gave Benjamin a bath because when you're a parent sometimes simply loading the dishes actually sounds like a pretty good prize.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

World Book vs. Wikipedia

Rachel's class is studying bears right now. They've studied panda bears and now they're on koala bears which, as Rachel knows, aren't actually bears at all. They're marsupials.

She's been wanting to do some research on koalas so this afternoon when she came home from school (and both Miriam and Benjamin were still napping (still trying to kick this illness)) I helped her get started doing some research online.

Her school—and apparently the entire school district (though I don't remember knowing about this resource last year)—has a subscription to World Book Encyclopedia and we're able to sign in from home. We've been on a few times. Frankly, I don't think World Book has anything on Wikipedia, though for World Book Kids the articles are condensed and kid-friendly so I didn't think it would do any harm to give Rachel full reign of the encyclopedia while I made dinner.

She diligently took notes on what she learned—word for word (so completely plagiarism...of facts that are pretty well common knowledge because it turns out that the kid version of the encyclopedia is full of rather basic knowledge (so is it still plagiarism?)).

When she was finished, she handed me a paper full of all the information she thought noteworthy:

"A full-grown koala is 25 to 30 inches (64 to 76 cm) long. In addition, much of the koala population is infected by chlamydia. This disease that can cause blindness."

Chlamydia? What?!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It's happening

Andrew came home from school and Benjamin said, "DAD!" and ran up to him and gave his leg a hug. So language is developing. Phew.

Holy Croup

Last night I wrote that "Benjamin is still rather croupy."

Let's change that to read, "Benjamin is moderately-to-severely croupy."

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to the strangest sound. In my dream, the sound meant that a litter of kittens had been dropped off on our doorstep. The sound brought me out of my dream, however, and continued after I'd opened my eyes. The sound was real. The sound was in my house.

I got up to check on the kids and discovered the source of the noise in Benjamin's room. It was Benjamin, of course. He was crying and wheezing, trying to fill his little lungs with air. I picked him up and he went limp in my arms (which is the most horrible feeling) but continued to wheeze in and out—short, raspy gasps of air rattling his tiny frame.

I ran back to our bedroom and flicked on the light.

"Andrew, get up!" I cried with a note of panic in my voice that would have alerted the dead (which is just the tone you need in your voice to wake Andrew up).

He woke up and stared at my panic-stricken face. He stared at Benjamin's terrified round eyes. He jumped out of bed and dove into action.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuckered out

I feel like today was a productive day, for the most part. As Miriam said, "We're not having a boring sick day! We're doing lots of work!" She was excited to be working so hard after the ennui of taking things easy while trying to get over this cold.

She's still got a slight cough but Benjamin is still rather croupy so we aren't out of the woods yet.

Anyway, we decided it was time to winterize the girls' beds. We pulled out their comforters, washed their sheets, and got everything nice and fresh (and much warmer). Miriam was nervous about allowing me to wash her silky blankey (the one my friend Crystal made for Rachel, but which Miriam has claimed as her favourite).

"Please can we just not wash my silky blankey?" she asked.

"I think it would be better if we did. That way it won't smell funny."

"But it doesn't smell funny," she insisted. "It smells like..." She paused to sniff her blanket then asked, "What smells better than soup? Because I think my blankey smells like that."

In the end I convinced her to wash her blanket and she vigilantly listened for the washing machine to finish its cycle and then reminded me to get her blanket into the dryer so that it could be finished by bedtime. This was before lunchtime, so I was pretty confident that I'd be able to get it back to her by bedtime.

As it turns out, she had every reason to be concerned that she'd be missing her blanket at bedtime because I just checked on her and she didn't have it. It was still in the dryer!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day 2013

I'm always pleasantly surprised when Remembrance Day rolls around and Rachel has the day off from school. I suppose I'm not always surprised since she's only been in school for two years, but for each of those two years I've been pleasantly surprised. I grew up having a day off of school on Remembrance Day but then my family moved down to the States and—in Utah, at least—we no longer had the day off, even though it's Veteran's Day.

So after a decade of basically not ever having a day off for Remembrance/Veteran's Day we finally do, and it's nice.

This year was an exceptionally lame day off, unfortunately. Miriam is still sick. Benjamin woke up sick. And I haven't been feeling great, either. Rachel was sick last week, however, and, having shared her nasty germs with everyone else and already having acquired immunity to said germs, was able to bounce out of bed as chipper as a chipmunk this morning.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Primary Program

This morning the primary put on their annual sacrament meeting presentation. Every year the church puts out a curriculum for the primary to follow during sharing time, with an overarching theme for the year (as well as themes for each month...and week). It includes concepts to cover, songs to learn, and so forth. This year our theme was I Am A Child Of God  and the children did a wonderful job presenting what they learned.

It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of an entire congregation of adults (since all the kids 3–11 are on the stand behind you) and speak into a microphone.

Miriam's line was: The word of wisdom helps us to have a healthy body.

What's funny about this is that she has a nasty cold right now. At the practice yesterday she got up to say her line and coughed all the way through it. Thankfully she managed to say her line today without coughing once (though she was coughed through nearly everything else).

Rachel's line was a bit longer and although she memorized it (as did Miriam) she read it when she got up there because "it was there." Her line was: Jesus Christ taught the gospel and set an example for us. Christ's atonement is a gift that has been given to us so we might repent and live with God again.

They had fun singing all the songs, too, but the best part, I think was that the girls' ballet teacher/Rachel's kindergarten teacher came to watch. We sent her an invitation in the mail and when she told me she was planning on being there I told her we'd save her a spot. We got to church ten minutes early and she was already there, saving us a spot. The girls were so excited to see her!

She is a remarkable woman.

Rachel also sent a few invitations out to her friends from school and a little girl in her class came (though Rachel will tell you that "she's not a little girl—she's seven!"). It made Rachel feel so special! She ran up to her friend after and gave her a big hug.

It's always fun to watch the kids deliver their lines. They're all so sweet!

As a member of the primary presidency, I'm certainly glad the primary presentation is over so that we can focus on Christmas and get ready for the new year. There's always so much to do this time of year!






Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Mill and the Amphitheater

At the beginning of the year we made a goal to go on 100 family walks. It's mid-November. We still have 24 walks to take. Andrew swears we'll be able to take them all. I am not so confident but I planned a family walk today (more than our usual up-and-down-the-street romp before bed or quick-jaunt-to-the-park) and we were able to cross one more thing off our list.

We were also able to cross off another "North Carolina Adventure." We aimed to do 24 adventures over the course of the year. We have one left to go on.

The adventures were fun to plan. Sometimes they were elaborate plans, like our trips to the beach and the mountains. Other times they were relatively simple, like visiting a splash pad or trying out a new hike or visiting a local museum. Each adventure had to be unique, but each adventure typically counted as a family walk (since most of our adventures were outdoor and included a lot of walking).

The only other rule for our walks and adventures were that everyone in the family had to go. I think that's what's made it so difficult to get all our family walks in. It's hard to get everyone out for a walk. I can't tell you how many times I've either taken all the kids to the park or pool while Daddy's been at school. Nor can I tell you how many times either Daddy or I have taken the girls to the park or pool while the other parent stayed home with a napping Benjamin. But those times don't count because not everyone participated.

Anyway, today's walk was a new trail that I saw while zooming in on West Point on the Eno Park on Google Maps. It looked like a paved path, heading toward the amphitheater and a pond (though we didn't ever see the pond).

We were excited to find the mill open when we got to the park. I'd all but forgotten about trying to get there (it's open on weekend afternoons from 1 to 5) but since it was open we moseyed on in and counted it as a family adventure prior to taking our walk.

The nice old man behind the counter gave us a tour. During the tour he kept opening various windows and doors and sticking his head outside. It took us awhile to realize this was because he had a mouthful of chewing tobacco (we're pretty sure he was spitting outside). The tour was fascinating though! He turned the waterwheel on for us, which was awesome. The turning of all the cogs in the building shook the floors and made the girls pretty nervous.

Above the shop counter they had a rack full of snake skins. The man said he collects them from wherever he finds them inside the mill. I shuddered but said, "They're probably after all the mice that live here, aren't they?" "You bet they are," he said.

In the end we purchased a bag of grits that was ground right there in the mill (Rachel's holding it on her lap while pretending to play a match of checkers with Miriam). We're planning on having stone-ground grits for dinner tomorrow night!