Thursday, December 7, 2017

Old Fashioned Fun (Inspired by Paw Patrol)

You all know I am all about the TV watching around here and my kids have never been without that background noise turned on as soon as we wake up in the morning since they were newborns.  And imagine...not a one of them has problems focusing at school or symptoms of ADHD.  I held out with the kid cartoons as long as possible but once that gate opened around the time Tessa was born there has been no turning back and the Paw Patrol, Curious George, Blaze, Thomas and other beloved characters have been regular visitors in our house every day.  I completely zone these shows out.  One morning, which I don't remember this happening because I was probably sitting at the computer in the kitchen pretending to pay attention to what the kids were saying, there was a seasonal episode of Paw Patrol on and the kids were confused to see the pups making garlands for their tree out of popcorn.  I explained that this was an old fashioned way people decorated trees when there weren't a lot of stores around that sold decorations and maybe they didn't have enough money to buy fancy beads because in the "old days" they weren't as easy to make in factories.   Speaking of that, where are all these colorful balls, beads, stocking weights and fake trees produced?  I imagine a very magical factory but it's probably just another factory in China.

Justin has once again been at the oil spill site all week and I could feel myself melting down yesterday afternoon, surrounded by a huge mess so bad I didn't know where to start dealing with it and all the kids whining and fighting.  So I told them we could make popcorn strings if they cleaned up the table after we ate and were good.  This wasn't enough to cause a peaceful and enjoyable meal with Tessa, who only wants to eat junk, junk and more junk.  She whines all day, from the moment she wakes up, for granola bars, cheese-its, goldfish crackers and veggie straws (these are mostly just chips with the word veggie in the title but it makes parents feel better) and pretty much eats no protein, fruits or vegetables unless I place them in her mouth or place strict limits on her being allowed to do anything else.  And, imagine this, she is always crabby and irritated.  I wonder why.  I mean, I know I feel pretty good if I only eat simple carbs all day but maybe that's not her problem.  It's just a guess.   I only let her have snacks at certain times of day but I am ready to pitch them all in the trash.  Oh...she will eat berries.  Forget all seasonable, affordable fruit like bananas, apples, avocados, delicious December oranges, pears and peaches from little fruit cups, pomegranates, etc.  She will eat berries which, this time of year, cost $5 for a tiny carton that doesn't even hold enough to serve three kids.  And none for the adults in the house, obviously.  But, one kid was excited about the popcorn thing and that was enough to get him on his best behavior at least and he even wiped off the table.

This activity didn't make a terrible mess although there was a lot of broken popcorn laying around.  We have an air popper so you can make it without any oil or salt which no one has ever done before because BORING but it was perfect for this.

Ben looks like he has a Mohawk in these pictures.  He really doesn't.  Must be the way his hat smashed his hair down at school.  

So here is the chain Tessa and I (mostly I) made.  

It really does add some classic texture to the tree.  It would be fun to have a themed tree with all white one day and use popcorn chains.  I'll consider that in about ten years when I have time to care about stuff like that. Or it would be fun to decorate an outdoor tree and watch the birds and squirrels enjoy a treat.  I feel like there is an old children's book from my childhood where that happened but the details are very faded. 

Ben hung his chain by the stockings.

And look closely...

I can't believe I did this but after they went to bed there was a bowl with some bland, flavorless popcorn sitting there and stray needles were littering the table so I thought, "why not?" and me and "Shelfie" made a mini string of popcorn.  Hehe.  

In other seasonal news, I have made three big batches of spritz cookies this year.  One for Thanksgiving, one for Ben's Boy Scout bowling party and a third for a cookie exchange with friends.  I have been trying to perfect these for years since I grew up eating them and they are so simply delicious.  Every time, they have been too hard for my liking.  I like cookies to fall under the "are there raw eggs in this?" category and it seems like my spritz cookies always end up brown on the bottom and crunchy.  Well, I think this year I found the recipe and THE SECRET...BEHOLD:

Look at the perfectly un-browned back of that cookie!  And they are chewy and melty and perfect.  I read on an internet article or blog when searching for a recipe to use that it helps to place baking sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before you dispense the cookies and bake.  I suppose it makes them take longer to heat up on the bottom.  So I tried it and it seems to work!  Also, almost any recipe says to bake 10-12 minutes.  When I see directions like that I default to the lower number but I started baking them for 8 minutes and when I use my fancy ridged pan, shown below, I reduce it to 7.  

Check out big chunky up there in the corner!  Sometimes the press malfunctions a bit...

Oh, and also I go heavy on the extracts.  Almond extract should never be added in an amount less than a teaspoon, in my opinion.  My new favorite recipe said half that.  WHUT!?  And a big glug of vanilla never hurt anything either.  I think they are good.  At the boy scout party I saw a dad walk away from the table holding a big stack of them in his hand.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Exterior Illumination 2017 Version

I believe back in the early months of this blog, when we were in the first months of having our first house, I did a post about exterior illumination when we hung actual, real Christmas lights on the house and in a tree in the front yard.  Whoa.  Must have been nice to just have time to do whatever we wanted!  Haha...that's kind of a joke.  I know lots of people pull it off but we haven't managed to do so since 2009.  Fortunately, there are many houses in town that give everyone something to see at Christmas.  And some of the most famous ones are right in our neighborhood!

Friday night was Ben's Christmas party for Boy Scouts which was a bowling party.  We knew Milo would cause trouble so we planned for one parent and Milo to leave when necessary.  After stopping him from running down the lane multiple times and having to physically restrain him from trying to lift bowling balls only to drop them directly on the ground it was time for him to go.  I stayed with the two older kids through a tedious game of bowling with four Kindergartners and their toddler and preschool siblings which took for-ev-er.  On the way home I decided to detour past the craziest house in town since it was a really warm night for December.

They usually turn on the display the night of Thanksgiving but they weren't ready yet this year (probably because they were still building that rollercoaster on the roof-that's a new addition) so this was the opening weekend and we had to park a block away and walk to the house.  Like previous years, it did not disappoint.  I took a few pictures although I hope to come back with the whole family another night before Christmas.

The kids loved the "Jesus scene".  There are a few in the yards on the drive to Ben's school and they always fight over who sees them first because they fight over everything. 

This old time pickup is also new this year.  

The famous sidewalk arch...this thing is made for social media pictures.  

Like I said earlier, we haven't put any outdoor Christmas decorations up since 2009...until now. Last year our neighbor got one of those "As Seen on TV" star shower projectors.  It is a little projector that projects green and red lights on your house.  It has a sensor that turns it on when it gets dark outside. After Christmas last year I found one on clearance.  Now there is a newer model that projects little pictures so now the one from last year costs the same as it did on clearance last year but oh well.  The star version is more tasteful...see for yourself.   

Isn't that festive?  

Allan did not know what to do about the little lights flashing through the window.  

He sat and stared at them all night. 

Then he realized they were coming through the basement window too so he sat on the stairs and watched them.  He's funny.  It will be a fun month for him between the star shower and chewing on the Christmas tree.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Version of a "Minimalist" Christmas

It's time again for Christmas.  Thanksgiving is over and it was a bit strange this year. You might have heard about an pipeline break and oil spill in South Dakota.  Justin has training through his job that qualifies him to respond to environmental disasters such as oil spills so he has been at the site of the spill quite a bit these last few weeks.  He made it for Thanksgiving and long enough to hunt the next day and get his deer for the year but then he went back again.  After seeing their grandparents set up Christmas trees this weekend the kids did not want to wait any longer to set up our tree.

As of last spring, we had not planned on being in this house for Christmas so all the decorations were in a storage unit three hours away.  So, that meant that I got to venture into the unit, unearth the tree and several rather disorganized boxes of Christmas clutter, load them into my vehicle (they took up all the cargo space) haul them home and unload all of it myself while the kids were practically losing their minds with excitement while I tried to clean up the trashed house I left behind when we left for Thanksgiving.  Because who doesn't love the image of practically shoveling toys and books and paper projects and school papers and Thanksgiving decorations and dried out gourds and mini pumpkins out of the way to make room boxes of Christmas stuff.  It was straight out of a Hallmark movie. All that was missing was the cups of hot chocolate with fluffy white marshmallows and candy cane stir sticks.

There is something good about bringing the Christmas tree back into the de-cluttered (but gradually being re-cluttered) house.  We are minus a few pieces of furniture in the living room so the tree actually fits in there this year so it isn't in front of the window in the dining room with the table kind of blocking access like usual.  I like seeing it in the front window so I wasn't sure but it is pretty nice in the living room.

Allan, as you probably recall if you have been reading this for awhile, loves the Christmas tree.  In the past he has loved climbing it and he also enjoys chewing on the branches for some reason.  He was pacing around the box as soon as it was upstairs so I knew he could smell it and he would be chomping away as soon as he could get access.  

As usual...This year he hasn't been climbing it.  He must realize his weight now limits his mobility.  I know exactly how it feels, Al...

Carefully concealed in an solid colored shopping bag in one of the boxes was the recent Christmas tradition that so many people hate to love and love to hate:  Elf on the Shelf.  The kids were asking about it so I knew they remembered.  I see these things on display at many stores so I'm not sure how much lying is going to be required to keep the "magic" alive but we are just going to see what happens as the years go by.  Tessa already seems to know and she interrogated me a few days ago about where we keep it when it's not Christmas and she seemed to know it was me doing the moving.  Last year she pointedly asked me if I was Santa so...I hope she doesn't ruin the fun for the other kids as she gets older.  Ben is a full believer and Milo has no idea what is going on but he knows what Christmas trees are and he knows which stocking is his at least.  

I wasn't sure I wanted to start before the calendar turned to December but I also wasn't sure where to hide it so I set it up to look like the Elf (Ben named him Shelfie...genius) found and set up the stockings after they went to bed on Sunday night.  As of last night, I already almost forgot to move him and today he is dangling from the cord on a set of window blinds.  I have yet to set up any elaborate scenarios with him like you see on social media (snow angels in flour, fishing in the sink, etc.) but I am saving my big favorites (riding the parrot I got in Mexico, perching on top of the tree star) until it is actually December so I don't lose steam.

We got the tree set up and lighted on Sunday night and I said we would do the decorating after school on Monday.  Tessa was whining all day to just get out "a few decorations".  Her weird collector magpie personality really comes out at Christmas and she just can't get enough.

They each adopted a little tree to decorate for their rooms.  I seem to have misplaced a whole box that had the short strings of lights but fortunately I bought a few strings of those trendy "fairy lights" that run on batteries last year.

They were playing "Christmas" and filling those little boxes with junk from around the house.  They also had their stockings down and were filling them with junk from around the house.  Good thing there is a lot of junk around the house.

This is Tessa's first version of her tree.  I bought those little disco balls a long time ago at TJ Maxx and she remembered them from last year.  She kept asking for the "shiny dance balls" and I finally figured out what she wanted.  Since then these trees have been dragged around the house and last night they shut themselves in a bedroom for an hour and redecorated their trees again. That poor little tree with it's burlap base has been with me since my dorm room days.  What a life it's had.  

Here is the new tree location.  It fits nicely.  I want a bigger, fluffier tree at some point but we've just never had the room even as we have expanded from tiny student apartments to larger apartments to houses.  I figured out that this tree was purchased on clearance and first used for Christmas of 2006 so it is eleven years old and it is starting to show it's age.  It sheds a lot of needles and some of the branches are bend and loose (most likely due to cat abuse) and the branches don't look too full without decorations and lights.  I also kind of want a new tree skirt since, as you can see, the one we have is red and the tree has a blue dominant color.  It's hard to see but there are blue beads and plastic filler balls in various shades of blue too.  I checked TJ Maxx (where the red one came from) yesterday morning but they didn't have much.  Just lots of white and silver.  Anything white on the floor of this house is destined for dinge in no time.  

Like the past few years, I have kept breakable ornaments off the tree.  You won't see any "baby's first Christmas" mementos or anything glass on here unless it is some cheap thing I got on clearance at Hobby Lobby for 90% off in February.  The result is a tree mostly decorated with plastic balls from Ikea and lots of felt items and a lot of what are basically plush toys.  

Good thing my favorite childhood ornament is felt!  It's still up high away from reaching hands anyway.  

So far this year this little bird's nest has been the hot item.   The kids take it down, fight over it and then leave it on the floor where I find it left in various rooms of the house.  I don't get it either.  It has a little clip instead of a string so many that's why they like it.  

There are ornament hooks laying all over the floor and Ben collected a bunch and made his own ornaments last night.  It was really cute.  Justin's has a picture of the two of them, Ben's is a patterned ball, Milo's is a baby, Tessa's is a cat's head and mine is also a decorated ball.  

So there you have it. The halls are decked.  I tried to reduce the decorations this year because when it is time to take them down we will have a newborn in the house so I skipped my big Department 56 snow village, many glass figurines and the extra lights hanging in the windows of the kids' rooms and wound around the bannister.  I might have still hung those but the box they were in somehow didn't make it here so that made it easy.  Now..the fun part.  Hiding away all the empty boxes only to take them back out in January, load them back in the car and back across the state to the storage unit.  I'll probably just pile them in the basement with the Halloween and other fall decorations in their orange and black plastic containers and deal with it later.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Pinewood Fun

I grew up in a class full of Boy Scouts.  Whenever the days of the meetings rolled around most of my male classmates were in school wearing their uniform shirts and kerchiefs with their corresponding animal tie slide.  I tried to find a picture of one of these on Google images but I couldn't find anything like what I am trying to describe.  They were made of plaster or something like that and the boys painted them and the results were...mixed.  During the Pledge in the morning they did their salute and they sold wreaths at Christmas and of course they participated in the Pinewood Derby every year.  

My brother was not a boy scout so I never saw any of these activities as an insider.  Ben is now a Cub Scout.  I don't think I have posted about this yet but during the first few weeks of school he came home with an information sheet which he was pretty excited about because it featured pictures of boys fishing and shooting guns and bows and arrows.  Those activities are generally reserved for older scouts at summer camp but we still signed him up anyway.  In the past boys didn't start until first grade but they have a new program for Kindergarten age kids now and it is less commitment and also fundraising is optional (WHEW!) and they wear a t-shirt instead of the full uniform.  But they did receive a Pinewood Derby car kit upon registration and the big race was Friday night.  

Fortunately, Justin was a scout himself so he knew what to do.  I didn't know this but you put weights on it to make it as close to five pounds as possible.  Interesting.  So, Justin used the power tools (the saw) and Ben picked his design.  Here is the initial sketch.  

His name really is fully backwards there.  It's not just the camera.  He usually doesn't do it like that.  Watching kids learn to write is a fascinating thing.  

Here is the finished car!  

Here is the setup for the races.  

You can see there are six lanes.  According to Justin, back in "the day", in our case the 1990's, they only raced two cars at a time so you could easily see who won.  Now they have a computer system so that little black bar at the end pups up the order of the lanes immediately and the times and speeds pop up on that projection screen on the stage.  Pretty cool. 

They mixed all the age together and every car raced five times.  I'm not saying anything illegitimate was going on but you could definitely see that certain families of brothers and often families of the leaders have experience with this stuff and know what they are doing due to years of experience while some us.  The problem with Ben's car was wobbly wheels which you don't notice when rolling it along a flat surface at a regular speed.  After it dropped off at the beginning of the races though you could really see them shake and it instantly fell behind. was a bit painful but still fun.  He got a kick out of it and slept with his car tucked in by his bed in it's own blanket that night.  And there were only three (really big and aswesome) trophies but everyone got a badge at least.  And they even had this fun little backdrop set up for pictures.  

It was fun to see Ben having fun and frolicking around with kids from school.  He has made buddies of all ages on the bus and I like it because I have heard about older kids being kind of mean at other schools in town and I have seen parents visibly recoil when they hear my kid rides the bus.  There was one drawback to the evening and his name starts with an M and he just turned two and he doesn't like to sit through things and wants to do whatever he wants when he wants.  Another event survived but leaving me wondering what I was thinking adding another baby who will one day be a toddler to the family.  Haha...joking...kind of...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tessa is 4

Another month, another kid's birthday...two days ago this little baby turned four.

Dang, was she ever cute.  She always had a pacifier in her mouth, she had no hair for a long time and was often mistaken for a boy and she always had (and still has) a very alert and perplexed look in her eyes which I find endearing.  She even looked like that in her hospital nursery photo taken by the nurses when she was one day old.  

This picture always makes me laugh.  

She happened to have preschool the morning of her birthday and she was very excited to celebrate there and she chose to be the teacher's special helper (they have a brochure with birthday options).  Well, the morning of she was not herself and she didn't seem very happy about school.  As we were about to leave I learned why-she started gagging and we ran to the bathroom where she vomited up all the milk she drank that morning.  It was actually pretty amazing because it all went in the toilet and none got on her clothes.  Oh, the light at the end of the toddler tunnel!  Of course, afterward she was fine and all ready to go to school.  I didn't dare risk it though, so she didn't go.  I had a doctor's appointment for myself and plans to buy a cake for her while she was at school and we had to drive Ben to school so I ended up bringing her everywhere while she constantly asked when she was going to school and said she was missing her birthday.  Ugh.   I hate to make those calls but this one seemed to be a clear case of "something she ate".  Perhaps she accidentally drank a cup of milk that had been left out all night instead of the one I gave her.  It happens sometimes...

She was very excited for her presents.  I was looking at old pictures and it seems I wrapped her gifts with that same pink themed owl Christmas paper last year.  Don't worry, she didn't remember. 

The bros didn't handle watching someone else get presents.  Milo tried to rip them open and Ben wanted to also open them and then unbox and put everything she received together for her.  

Oh, so hard...because they never will get their own birthday!  And of course, Ben would be just fine with someone else ripping open all his gifts and playing with them first!  

She received a set of Frozen Legos, some mini Hatchimals, Glitzi Globes, and a Belle costume.  If you don't know what any of that stuff is...lucky you.  The globes are pretty cute though.  She's been talking about wanting them for a long time.  

Her costume is a major glitter shedder.  There was a trail of it down the hallway.  

There is a lot of criticism out there about buying "plastic junk" for kids and if you read the comments section of any parenting article about gift giving on social media you would think the only acceptable gift anymore is an "experience" such as a zoo pass (thanks for the idea everyone, but we already have one as does pretty much every family in town!) movie tickets or a gift certificate for swimming lessons.  Everyone is very much on the no toys train.  I must have strange kids because they love toys and the seriously play with everything we have all the time.  Yes, it is strewn all over the house and it's annoying to me but when I think about what to so nobly donate to those poor kids at the homeless shelter and then make sure everyone knows about it so we can feel good about ourselves I truly can't find anything.  Space is of course an issue for almost everyone and huge plastic playsets can be troublesome but I can't oppose Legos or Shopkins.  Yesterday afternoon when Milo was sleeping and Ben was at school she was just in her own little world, making up some fantasy world combining her legos, hatchimals and glitzi globes and it was awesome for me.  

Yes, this table looks like a nightmare.  Let me explain...the sock pile was being used as sleeping bags for the Hatchimals, the purple pieces are from the Hatchimal eggs (now in the garbage except for the little base shells, the painters tape was from a derby car Ben and Justin made for cub scouts (more about that in a later post) and the robot...well that's just an odd piece of Happy Meal junk that is having a moment in the sun.  

Then, it got even better...she received a gift in the mail.  

Wow, is she obsessed with this thing.  It's a Barbie head that you can style the hair and use water to change the color of her makeup and nails and it also has fake nails and hair pieces you can add.  

She wanted to wear a piece of fake pink hair to school today, haphazardly clipped in with a barrette.  I said it probably wasn't a good idea but she is wearing a bracelet with a mini snow globe with a Shopkin inside. I tried to discourage that idea because I know the teacher will kindly place it in her cubby shelf right away but she REALLY wanted to show the other kids.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

School Pictures

September and October are standard school portrait months.  This year, Ben and Tessa had different photographers at their schools which is kind of annoying since then you don't have the cohesive look hanging on the wall or sitting in a frame (or languishing in the envelope in a box or pinned to a bulletin board and buried under months of other projects and pictures...not talking about us...just some people who might have that problem...)

So, first up was Ben's picture day.  We ended up having a funeral that day so retake day it would be.  Well, retake day landed during "Red Ribbon Week" which is a standard week of themed dress up days tied in with daily events about positive behavior.  The day of the week that was also retake day was pajama day.  Ugh, seriously.  No kid wants to miss pajama day at school.  It's a great day for all involved.  I was worried about the picture so I emailed the teacher, send a nice shirt for him to put on over his pajama shirt for the picture and chose a pose that was only a head shot (they have an option where you can see their pants).

When Ben came bounding off the bus that afternoon I causally asked if he took his picture.  "Yes!"  Then I asked if he put his blue striped shirt on.  "NO!"  What? Why not?  "We were going to the gym and it took too long!"  Facepalm.  Huge facepalm from me.

So here it is for the class composite group photo and in the yearbook if they have one.

A very nice portrait with a kid wearing Lightening McQueen pajamas.  At least it's not his Christmas ones he loves to wear or a pair of zippered foot pajamas.  

So to go next to pajama boy we have Tessa, a girl who should by all indications be very photogenic.  I know she is capable of very cute photos like this:

Well, look what came home a few weeks after picture day:

Oh, Lord help me.  Where do I start.  First, I had chosen a grey background but she forgot to give the teacher the card with the selection on it so her teacher helped her pick what she wanted and of course she picked the girly pink background which would have been fine except I chose that shirt to match the grey background.  It doesn't have any pink in it. 

Slighly better...

Ben was at the same preschool last year and I felt the same way last year as I do this year about that black box...leave it in the 90's.  I think they crop most of it out in the final product but still...

So, I had her hair fixed with a barrette which I hoped could survive the short morning of school but nope.  It's haphazardly stuck on top of her head.  You can kind of see it.  

Now you all can look forward to receiving these to hang on your fridges!  Poor Tessa...she is in a kind of awkward hair phase right now.  I think she needs some shaping but she says she wants a ponytail and the only way to get there is to let it grow.  I think a trim is in her future though.  When the baby comes we will probably get their pictures taken somewhere that doesn't use a black velvet prop and pink tapestry backgrounds.