Tuesday, December 31, 2013

family magnified

We’ve spent the last few days visiting family in Pennsylvania and New York. Sunday, the day we were at my aunt and uncle’s log cabin house (along with about several dozen other people), was the day I indulged my camera compulsions.

There was a brunch of everything brunchy. My stats: one wholegrain waffle with butter and maple syrup, half of a ham and cheese omelet, a piece of date bread, and several cups of coffee. Later, there were crisp, red apples, deer bologna, toasted ham and cheese croissants, raisin-filled cookies and chocolate crinkles, leftover cottage cheese cheesecake with strawberry sauce, and more coffee. (I’m not going to tell you my stats.)

Something new happened this year: The Great Box Divide. My cousin Zoe, an expert seamstress, had a bunch of high quality leftovers from a bazaar: bags of all sizes and colors, hot pads, aprons, napkins, and extra goodies like paper star ornaments, fabric necklaces, and dried oranges. We could take what we want, she said, and did we ever. I may have gotten a little giddy.

Other sundry activities included card games, baby holding, conversations, and paper flower making. Ordinary things, really. But when shared with family (both the ones well-known and the ones rarely seen) they became exotic: a rich, glorious, chaotic mess of energy, emotions, exhaustion, and excitement, family magnified.

Friday, December 27, 2013

a mistake-based education

I’ve decided that life is just a series of mistakes. Hopefully we learn from them.

Some people might find this discouraging, but I think it’s liberating. People aren’t trying to be bad intentionally, they’re just learning.

This is a helpful perspective to have when it comes to parenting. I make mistakes, yes, but my children? They make them all the time. This baffles and frustrates me, but I’m learning to take it in stride. For example, when the pretty lanterns get re-filled with smelly kerosene instead of the scentless stuff, it’s just a learning opportunity: I learn to bite my tongue (after letting it have free rein for a minute or three) and the child learns there is a difference between lamp fuels and to never fill them without permission. Or when a child empties the garbage and presses down on the bag and slices open the back of the hand with a piece of broken glass, proper-handling-of-garbage skills are acquired (and not to be forgotten any time soon).

Those are private, at-home examples. It’s not quite as easy to maintain perspective when the mistakes are made in public. When I get news that a child of mine is messing with a teacher’s Sunday school room or breaking someone’s stuff or not paying attention or getting downright sassy, my freak-out alert goes off. My kids are a mess! Erp! Erp! Erp! The sky is falling! The world is ending! I’m sure everyone’s shaking their heads over my miscreant, hyperactive, odd-ball little brats. And far and away, the most enthusiastic head-shaker is me.

But then, after ricocheting around in La-La Panic Land for a bit, it dawns on me, “Wait. Kids are kids. Of course they’re going to screw up. Get over it already.” And then I do damage control, stage an intervention, whatever, and that’s it.

I’ve recently had several conversations with friends regarding their kids’ behaviors, the ones that are setting off the parental Erp-Erp Alerts. One child was hitting other children. Another was fiercely resisting any sort of chores. Others kept getting down from the dinner table despite the parents’ best attempts at civilized meals. What to do? What to do?

Where I sit, in all my 42-accumulated-years of parenting (just add up the ages of your kids if you want to feel super wise and super old), their problems seem healthy. This does not mean their panic and concern is any less daunting—no, not at all—but I do know it is perfectly normal, and that, glory be, it, too, shall pass.

As my children get older, I'm losing the freedom to share about their temper tantrums or anxieties. Those stories belong to my children and that's as it should be. But it's also weird because my husband and I are still up to our eyeballs in the stresses of parenting. The difference is that now we can’t scream Help! I’m drowning in poppy diapers! to the general public. Instead, our problems, though every bit as shitty, have to be handled with caution. Shouting them into the void is about as helpful as lobbing them at a whirring fan.

So, when I’m up to my eyeballs in progeny screw-ups, here's what I do. I dredge up all the pulling-out-my-hair moments of parenting: the constant taking my children out of church services, the exhausting hours spent playing bedtime whack-a-mole, the battles over tasting new foods, the trashed bedrooms, the nerve-racking doctor visits, the miserable car trips with screaming babies. And then I think, Look now! The children (mostly) sit through church services, putting them to bed at night is 90 percent a piece of cake, they are gaining tolerance for flavor differences, bedrooms are manageably clean, doctor visits don't require weeks of prep and hours of debriefing, and car rides....well, car rides still need work. I ponder all this family history real hard, and then I tell myself that whatever it is we are dealing with—an extra-mouthy kid, a lack of respect of personal items, a propensity for doing headstands on sofas—all this, too, shall pass. Glory be.

If all this mistaking-making truly is a valuable learning experience, shouldn't I be counting it as such? As a homeschooler, I keep a log of the children’s learning experiences: plays we see, choirs they sing in, trips we take, etc. I'm beginning to think it'd only be logical to start including things like backing the van into the dog kennel and writing an apology letter for sassing the music teacher. Because that kind of education is every bit as valuable as learning the multiples of four and that potassium nitrate is an explosive, right?

And speaking of potassium nitrate, would you let your children make their own gun powder? 'Cause I'm really interested in helping my children be top-of-the-line pupils...

I should probably go memorize the Serenity Prayer now.

 P.S. The photography models are the aforementioned star pupils, though not necessarily actively engaged in their mistake-based education.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

cheese ball

I just wrote a post on a totally non-Christmas related topic but I can’t bring myself to post it because it feels like a breach of etiquette to talk about something other than evergreens and lights. But here’s the truth: when I came downstairs this morning and squatted by the Christmas tree to plug the lights in, the needles jabbed me rudely in the head and I thought, How many more days till we can take this thing down?

This morning I yelled at the kids to do (or not do) something and I realized, Ooh, I haven’t yelled for thirty-six hours. This feels great! And then I yelled some more, just to get myself back in top yelling shape.

This year, Christmas has felt noticeably bulky. I've been acutely aware of its awkward heft, like a bunch of hours strung together into a tightrope that I’m supposed to get across with three pounds of butter in one hand, a sack of gifts in the other, and a gallon of heavy whipping cream on my head.

Please everyone.
Be happy.
Keep the house clean.
Smile and appreciate.
Pig out.
Spread joy.
Rhapsodize and revel.
Embrace the ones you love.

But sometimes the ones you love step on the rising dinner rolls.

Metaphoric truth-telling facts aside, I did have a good Christmas. Top of the Oh My, Isn’t This Lovely! list was our copycat tablescape which my older daughter made at my request. We even cracked out the iron and pressed the linen tablecloth which used to belong to my husband’s grandfather (I think?), and I dismantled an old piano book for the sheet music place mats (if you’re going to copycat, you might as well go all out). Our Christmas Eve supper of cheeses, fruits, pickles, olives, meats, and eggnog was, according to my younger son, “The best meal in the whole world!” There was a spontaneous art-making session devoid of any sibling squabbles (bliss). And my parents came over for a mid-afternoon dinner and then whiled away the rest of the day eating, playing cards and doing science experiments with the kids, sleeping, washing dishes, and visiting. I knitted by the fire while leisurely visiting with my mother and it was enchanting. The children stuffed themselves on sugar and no one threw up.

When I started this post, I was sipping wine and munching on leftover cheese ball and crackers. (And before that, I was sipping leftover eggnog and munching spiced nuts.) I even mentioned I was doing so in the very beginning of the post, but then I deleted it because that's what I do when I write. I delete almost everything. Anyway, the cheese ball was part of our Christmas Eve supper.

I already had a bunch of cheeses and meats ready to go—mozzarella and prosciutto roll, rosemary and olive oil asiago, soppresatta, smoked Gouda with bacon, nameless hard cheese that resembles Parmesan, cranberry and cinnamon goat cheese (and the kids went wild)—but I decided a cheese ball, though not necessary, would be appropriate. So I made the most basic recipe I could fine and it was delicious and so I’m telling you about it now.

Cheese Ball
From about.com. (I told you it was basic.)

I used a white cheddar cheese because 1) I like the all-white ball effect, and 2) it’s what I had.

8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons grated onion (more like onion mush)
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ - 1 cup finely chopped pecans

Cream together the cheeses. Beat in the onion, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Shape into a ball. (If the mixture is too soft, let it firm up in the fridge for an hour.) Put the nuts in a shallow bowl and roll the ball in the nuts until every inch of cheesy surface is covered. Cover with plastic and store in the fridge until ready to serve.


There. Now I’ve addressed the Christmas happenings and can move on to non-seasonal postings. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 23, 2013

the quotidian (12.23.13)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Setting moon.

Sun-kissed moons and stars.

A house built of already-burned matchsticks. 
Because not-already-burned matchsticks would be counterproductive.

A stellar combo: boys and all-you-can-eat cheesy chips and salsa.

They had high hopes. 
(I did not meet their expectations.)

He plays Yahtzee with them. I do not.

My, aren't we a bright-looking bunch? (Good grief.)
Backstory: we had just finished reading a book about Handel's life 
and were listening to bits of the Messiah to drive home the connection.
P.S. She's fake picking. When I warned her the picture was going on the blog,
she still kept it up. So... Honey, the joke's on you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I’ve checked with several sources and the verdict is unanimous: Christmas is a lot of work.

When else do you choose to add "poking thread through popcorn" to your list of daily tasks? Isn't the cooking, laundry, house pick-up, errands, and simply existing enough already? It's crazy, guys. We're up to our eyeballs in planning for family gatherings and then to top it all off we have to pick out a tree and decorate it, listen to music, be relaxed and festive, bake an insane amount of cookies, go to parties, and feel happy-appy-appy all the time. No wonder half the world's breakdowns happen in December.

What makes it all the more stressful is that these extra, celebratory activities must be done together, as a family. Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum, please.

Under normal circumstances, my family does things well together for about 23.4 minutes. Even within that time frame there are the wobblings of breakdowns and and a few sharp reprimands to keep everyone in line. The fact is, the entire time we're merry-making, we're teetering on the brink of disaster. This is nerve-racking, at best, and at worst, it's flat-out terrifying.

Last week we had five nights in a row of family activities: plays, concerts, a star show, etc. Plus, there was company and tree-getting and tree-decorating and cookie-making and house-cleaning and food-and-stocking-shopping and hot-chocolate-and-donuts-at-bedtime and, and, and... By Sunday afternoon, I was shot. I couldn’t bear one more minute of let’s-be-jolly togetherness. So my husband took all four kids shopping for underwear and I snoozed on the sofa and went for a walk. It was great. Except then they came home (why does that always come as such a shock?) and we had our family movie in the late afternoon followed by another Christmas play, a play in which I had the honor of sitting beside The Child Who Never Ceases To Move and then three kids (of mine! who know better!) filched extra cookies from the refreshment platters and I pretty much lost it all over again. When Monday arrived in all its blank-calendar glory, it was such a relief.

Getting the Christmas tree was fun. Everything was covered in fresh snow and we were the only ones up in the fields (at the start). There were snowball battles. And my older son ran up behind my oblivious husband and yanked his feet out from under him so that he first hung in the air, horizontal with the ground, before crashing face-first into the snow. He came up sputtering, but when he saw me and my son convulsing with mirth, staggering around the field and nearly falling down, he laughed, too. (Later we tried to have a serious talk with our son about why that trick’s not such a good idea because broken bones, but, hahaha, boy oh boy, heeheehee.)

While we were trekking all over the place in search of evergreen perfection, it began to snow. I don't think I've ever picked out a Christmas tree in the falling snow. It was magic, I tell you, pure magic. I had to slip my camera down in my shirt to keep it dry. It made me look mechanically (maniacally?) pregnant, but I didn’t care. It was snowing!

The children delivered the tree to the worker men for shaking, wrapping, and loading, and we all headed over to the springhouse to warm up by the fire and drink hot chocolate and suck on candy canes.

Now the tree is up and, as I type this, the kids are fighting over whose ornaments are whose. Why am I not surprised?