Monday, December 30, 2013

Max's Poetry Corner

The author, composing a new masterwork
Oh, hello friends.  Welcome to Max's Poetry Corner, a time for me to share my preternatural poetic talents.  Here is today's offering.  Please hold your snaps and applause until the end.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas 
Max-Pascal James Cook

Do not go gentle into that good night,
young age should scream and rage at close of day;
rage, rage against the dimming of the lights.

Do not go gentle into that new diaper without a fight,
when insolent mothers try your bottom thus to clean.
Rage, rage against the hand that tries to wipe.

Do not go gentle into your car seat right,
be cat-like in your wailing and the arching of your back;
rage, rage against the seatbelt oh-so-tight.

Deep, isn't it?  And it's all based on a true story.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Photo Recollections of 2013

This may have to be a two-parter, because there are so many I like. Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...
Remember the helmet? Max had to wear a helmet for a few months to help round out the plagiocephaly (flat spots on his skull) caused by his torticollis (tilted neck). The helmet and the physical therapy must have helped, though, because looking at him now, I don't think you'd ever know he had to have all of that! Thank God for Max's great doctors (Dr. Don Helper, his orthotist, and Rachel Wachter, his physical therapist at Oregon Neurotherapeutics) and for his excellent insurance coverage.
Thanks to my excellent FB stalking skills, I discovered that my friend from college Rhonda Ortiz (AKA the Naptime Novelist) was in town in January, so we got our kids together for a playdate at Discovery Village in Salem. Her son Benedict is pretty close in age to Ruby, and they enjoyed all of the fun things the Village has to offer. Rhonda and I had a great talk about motherhood, writing, and Michigan (fun fact: she lives in Holland because her hubby teaches at the same college where my dad taught back in the late '80s, so we also have Holland, MI in common!) I also began picking her brains about her conversion to Catholicism (which happened when she was a senior at St. John's and I was a sophomore). Wish they lived closer, but at least I can follow her adventures online (and you should, too!) Another fun fact about that day: at the play date we had been talking about kids and number of kids and how she and her husband were hoping for another one soon. I found out that afternoon that I was pregnant with the baby that would turn out to be Ben, and I'm guessing not long afterwards she found out she was pregnant with the baby that would turn out to be Miriam, based on due dates and all that. How cool is that?
Nice Easter Bonnet, Max!
At the zoo
In our finery
Easter! Max is recently 1 and Ruby not quite 3. We did the Easter Egg hunt at the zoo and Grandma Laurie supplied adorable outfits.
Good job, daddy-o
Allen graduated from Warner Pacific with his Bachelors in Human Development, which he began in October 2011. Thus ended 18 months of weekly Wednesday night classes from 6-10 PM, countless papers and group projects, and lots of learning. Little did he know that he would soon be embarking on 4-5 YEARS of weekly Monday night classes from 6-10 PM and lots more learning in his carpentry apprenticeship program with Northwest College of Construction which he began this October. You may note that Allen eschewed the usual suit and tie underneath his graduation gown. He's wearing his soccer kit so he can jet off to an important game right after graduation is over. No time for finery and frippery.
Uncle Toby and the adoring niece and nephew
In June, Toby departed for St. Louis. It was the end of an era: he had been living with us since August of 2010. He was a great live-in uncle and often babysat the kids so that we could run to the store or go on a date night (a date night outside the home? I vaguely recall…) It had been fun working with him at MRA for a year, too.
Good job, Ruby
2013 was certainly the year of potty training. It was a long process…we started in March and Ruby won her dolly via her potty chart sticker thingy in June or July? And there were still many mishaps after that (The Poopocalypse comes to mind…) But hey, that's one person out of diapers so I'm happy about that.
I'm not in this picture because it is for blood relatives only, although I guess I should have been since I was pregnant with another descendant of the Haas line
In July we went on a road trip out to North Dakota for a family reunion, the main event of which was the commemoration of the new headstones that Allen's grandpa commissioned. It was quite a drive (we spent more time in the car than in ND since Allen could only take off so much time from work) but it was a good adventure. So, that covers the first 7 months of 2013…next time I'll cover the rest!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in the Cookie Jar

Where to begin?  I guess I should start with Christmas Eve.  Boy, was it busy!  I was working feverishly to get all of my last minute gifting accomplished.  You see, the Christmas tradition on Allen's side of the family is for everyone to gather at his grandparents' house and eat dinner and exchange gifts on Christmas day. The other Mrs. Cook (that is, my brother-in-law's wife) and I decided to make boxes of cookies (something her mom used to do) together to hand out as a joint gift.  I had been saving some cereal boxes for some craft project yet unknown, and now I had the perfect excuse to use them.

First, I undid the seam along the long edge of the cereal box.  Then I used spray glue to coat the printed side of the box (I sprayed it outside, of course, because that stuff reeks).  I chose to use wrapping paper, which worked well because it was relatively thin and pliable but was still thick enough that you couldn't see the original design of the cereal box underneath.  I put the flattened cereal box sticky side down onto the wrapping paper (wrong sides together, if you know sewing lingo) and smoothed it down.  Then I just cut along the edges of the box, trimming and gluing the wrapping paper on for nice corners where applicable.  Next it was time to refold the box, and I opted to use a stapler to staple the edges together, but I'm sure you could use a glue gun or the like if you prefer.  I also did not choose to line the inside of the box, but craftier souls than I (or perhaps just those with more spare time) could certainly do that.  They turned out great!
Alishia and I got together for a few hours in the late afternoon and baked up a storm.  She did most of the box assembling, too, because I had to leave so that we could go to our church's Christmas Eve service at 7 pm.  We used cupcake liners and coffee filters to hold the cookies, and I also put in some chocolate dipped plastic spoons and packets of hot cocoa.  I printed out to and from tags in nice font on card stock and attached them.  I am KICKING MYSELF for not taking any pictures of the final product, but they looked awesome and not at all like my usual Pinterest Fails.  You'll just have to take my word for it. Or my relatives-in-law can vouch for me in the comment box, if any of them read this blog.  
Back to Christmas Eve: we went to the church service, and the kids did pretty well considering that it was past their bedtime and there was no nursery for them to play in.  Then we came home and the kids got in their new pajama pants that I made for them, and they opened a special present from Chandra.
Max got Where the Wild Things Are pajamas and Ruby got Elmo

A scratch and sniff Christmas classic!
Hot cocoa was had, the book was read and duly scratched and sniffed, and then several more Christmas stories were read. Off to bed went the kiddies, and then the elves got to work.

I don't even know what kind of animal this is...

Team Awesome-o Selfie Time!

Tired, punchy mommy

Allen requested a "duck face" picture, but it looks a little more like sour lemon face   

We went to bed, and because our kids are still of the age where they don't realize that the earlier you get up, the earlier you get presents, they slept until after 7.  But Ruby was quite enamored with the Christmas tree and all of the decorations. 

The kids are still of the age also where opening presents takes quite a long time because they want to play with each thing, and they are still content.  Oh, I love this about them.  As per custom in our family growing up, the kids opened stockings first and had breakfast, but did not get to open any of the bigger presents until we all got back from church.  I don't think the kids would even have known to complain if all they had gotten were the few things in their stockings.  

Check out that wooden chest…one of my presents from Allen (by way of his grandpa, who was looking to sell it)
We did let them open one big present before church, though: the Bitty Twins (made by the American Girl company). Thanks, Grandma Laurie!  They were a big hit. One doll is a girl with blue eyes and blond hair, and the other is a boy with short brown hair and brown eyes (they didn't have a blue eyed brunette, apparently). Ruby christened the girl doll Cece and the boy doll something that sounds a lot like Cagney.  Not sure where she got that.

 They took their dolls and got dressed up for church.  Our church didn't have a morning service, so we went to the local Catholic parish, St. John the Apostle for their 9 AM mass.  We were a few minutes late so we were relegated to the folding chairs in the back, and Max threw a hissy fit about a quarter of the way through and had to go sit in the lobby with Allen, but Ruby did fine (albeit with some stage-whispering, "Is it done yet?  Is there another song?"  Ben slept the whole time…good baby.
Afterwards we talked a little bit with the monsignor (who, in a shockingly small world turn of events, is of German-Russian heritage and his great grandfather founded the tiny town in North Dakota near the other tiny town where Allen's grandpa is born, so perhaps we can snooker him into being a speaker at an upcoming GROW meeting.  And I'll have to devote a whole blog post later this whole digression.  Anyway, carrying on…) Then we went home, opened the rest of the presents which we had stowed in the wooden chest instead of under the tree, and tried unsuccessfully to get the kids to nap before heading over to the Haas family festivities.
Said festivities went well.  Our cookie boxes were appropriately admired and the kids received a lot of presents (being the only grandchildren in the family on both sides has its definite advantages).  The whole family was assembled and it all went pretty well, all things considered.  I would say more but my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law do not trust the internet (re: civilian surveillance done surreptitiously by the government) and really don't want to be mentioned on it in any way, so I will respect their wishes and let the events pass unmentioned here.
Max's present rivaled him in size.
Upon arriving home there was napping, skyping with my St. Louis family members, noshing, playing with new toys, taking down the tree (it really was too crowded) and everyone hitting the hay pretty early because of the busy day.  Ben's Christmas present miracle to me was to get his first full night of sleep…I think he slept from about 9 PM to 5 AM!!!! It was awesome and amazing.   Maybe we'll get an encore performance tonight.  A mom can dream, anyway. 
And now, off to bed.

Pinterest Fail, Christmas Morning Edition

I promise to have a nice long post with lots of cheery pictures soon, but I can't help myself.  I just have to show you all my latest hilarious Pinterest fail.
Allen suggested we have donuts for a special Christmas breakfast.  It immediately brought to mind this cute pin I'd seen:
Clearly not my work (as you shall soon see)
How sweet is that: using mini chocolate and powdered donuts and some other edibles to make snowmen and Rudolph faces!  Once again, the Winco bulk bins were my friends so that I could buy tiny amounts of M&Ms, orange and red jelly beans, and pretzels.
But once I got my mitts on the project, this is how it turned out:
Note to self: do not go into business at this.
Allen was disturbed by the reindeer in particular.  "It looks a little…satanic," I believe were his exact words.  Was it the yellow eyes?
But you know what?  The kids scarfed 'em down in the morning and thought they were cute.  And since neither of them knows anything about Rudolph anyway, I'm pretty sure they just thought Mom had gotten a bit carried away with decorating the breakfast, which truly sums it up anyway.
Even Devil Deer are no match for voracious kids
Oh, and p.s., check out those pajama pants!  I made them, yes I did. And you will soon see the other Christmas morning cuteness! Stay tuned...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas is Near...

AdventUnplugged For some reason I feel even more behind schedule this year than ever before, even though it was my first Advent as a grown up where I wasn't working full time or even part time. I guess having three little ones will do that to you. So, as the picture above shows, I'm linking up with Haley for her challenge to unplug during Advent. I had my good days where I was only on the computer during naps and then my not-so-good days where it was out in the main room and I felt, as she described, as though my kids were distractions rather than the main event. But there have still been plenty of precious moments during this Advent season to treasure. Although I haven't yet gotten a good picture of it, Ben has definitely gotten the hang of smiling and does lots of cooing, too. It is very adorable. Today is Ruby's first day of a 2+ week Christmas break, so she and Max will have lots of playtime together. This morning they decided to transfer all of the toys from their room (and I mean ALL) into the kitchen for reasons unknown.

 Actually, Ruby said it was because they were going to Hello Kitty's home.
Anyway, it's all good.  Allen and I have concocted a great plan for Christmas Eve (which is TOMORROW, yikes).  All of our Christmas/Advent stuff is still in the totes.  There is nary a decoration to be seen, especially since most of our window clings have been peeled off by a certain preschooler I know. 
3 year olds: putting the "Oy" in "Joy to the World"
But you know what?  I refuse to feel bad about that.  This Advent, despite my best wishes, did not turn out to be the Advent of the awesome calendar and the Jesse Tree and leaving out shoes for St. Nicholas and all of that. Maybe next year.  But we did get to do some fun make Pinteresting mint plates and set off fire alarms, watch quality holiday movies, and take some really endearing family photos, and I had the opportunity to blog it all.  So here's what we're going to do for Christmas Eve: Allen got a free real Christmas tree (thank you Craigslist!) and it is stashed on our porch.  After the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve he and I are going to bring it in and decorate it so that when the kids wake up, there will be a tree where before there was only a table.  It should be awesome!  And we just got a present from Chandra today in the mail that is expressly for Christmas Eve reading pleasure (I'm guessing).  We're going to go to Christmas Eve services at our church tomorrow and then mass on Christmas morning, followed by Christmas festivities with Allen's family in the afternoon.  I have every reason to suspect it's going to be an awesome Christmas, even if we didn't do all the perfect Advent build up that I'd like to do in the future. 
Dear readers, in case I don't check in tomorrow or Christmas day (which is entirely likely considering how many presents have to be made in the next 36ish hours), have a very Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!!! I'm about to hit 11000 page views, which makes me feel so special.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sounds of the Season

Right about now in St. Louis there are many concert-goers enjoying the beautiful music of the St. Louis Chamber Chorus's annual Christmas concert.  From the time I was a teen on through my coming-home-for-Christmas-break years it was a Christmas tradition on par with getting and decorating the Christmas tree that on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Advent we would go to hear the Chamber Chorus.  I'm not there for the concert today, obviously, but I always pull out my SLCC Christmas CDs during the Christmas seasons.  There are three Christmas recordings, but my favorite are A Spanish Christmas and A Chamber Christmas.  The Spanish Christmas CD features most of the Missa O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria, and is so sublime.  I enjoy all the traditional holiday music, both sacred and secular, but after even a day or so of listening to the radio station playlists, I find myself tiring of hearing the same few well-known carols over and over, albeit done with slightly different intonations or arrangements by different singers.  That's just the time to pop in one of these CDs, because I get to hear music from different countries and different centuries that never make the top 40 Christmas list…and aside from the recent resurgence of Pentatonix's particular brand of a capella, how often do you hear unaccompanied music on the radio?  Any time you need a contemplative break, take a listen to this (alas, not the SLCC recording, but I couldn't find any of theirs on YouTube):

And here's a video about the St. Louis Chamber Chorus (with my former Latin teacher Philip Barnes at the helm!)

(And no, I did not get paid to post this! Just putting some of the love out there for a really spectacular musical group…and if you believe in patronizing great art, then perhaps a suggestion of a worthy recipient!)

Friday, December 20, 2013

7 Quick Takes on Influential Books

For this Friday's 7 quick takes, I want to reflect on some books that have influenced, challenged, changed, and shaped my thinking at various points in my adolescent/adult life. Now, I went to St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, which is a Great Books College, so choosing only 7 books is really not going to do justice to my undergraduate career, let alone my life since then or prior to then. So, I'm going to have to be choosy. Just for the sake of variety, I'm not going to include the Bible on this list…not because it hasn't been influential (it obviously has) but because it kind of goes without saying. Everyone who has decided to put their faith in Jesus is going to have been influenced by the Bible. I'm leaving it off the list, but no fair making comments that I obviously have my priorities backwards! Another point: when I say that these books have influenced me, that is not the same as calling them books that I liked or are my "favorites." Some of the books that influenced me have not been ones that I enjoyed at first (or perhaps ever); yet they shaped my thinking and for that they get a mention on my list. Here they are, in no particular order:
. My dad is a Latin and Greek teacher, so I grew up pretty biased towards thinking that "the only good language is a dead language." I have a vivid memory of literally sitting at the feet of our family friend Dr. Avery Springer in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace as she told us stories about the fall of Troy. Awesome! Of course I took Latin all through middle/high school, and during my sophomore and senior year I got my first taste of translating sections of Vergil's epic poem, The Aeneid. I know some people out there are Aeneid-haters: they say that Vergil just ripped off the ideas of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad and combined them into one poem, or that the whole thing is merely a propaganda piece to get in good with Caesar Augustus. Phooey on them, says I. There are kernels of truth in both of those criticisms, but they both grossly overlook the awesome characterization of the tragic hero Aeneas, remnant of Troy and founder of the Roman race! I went on to write two lengthy papers on the Aeneid: one in my junior year preceptorial and then again for my big senior essay. For my essay I focused on Aeneas's epithet pius Aeneas or "pious Aeneas." I would say more about it here but I can sense that most of your eyes are glazing over. Anyway, I guess what I love most about the Aeneid (aside from the great adventure/tragic romance of it all) is that Aeneas is (in my opinion) the first hero of Western epic who really shares our human frailties. For all his raging and sorrow at Patroclus's death, I never found Achilles to be all that relatable. Aeneas, on the other hand, was often agonized by obeying the will of the gods even at great personal cost. Maybe it's just me, but I can relate to that. And it's really fascinating to translate, too. Okay, I'll move along so that you're not all like
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller was really pivotal for me in piquing my curiosity about Portland and introducing me to Imago Dei, which would be my church home for several years. Miller's writing style takes some getting used to, in my opinion. It's hard to know when he's telling a true anecdote and to what extent gee's fictionalizing for dramatic effect. But I didn't care, because despite him being too old for me and having a boyfriend at the time, I was in love with that man. He was earnest, thoughtful, charmingly self-deprecating, and he wasn't afraid to wrestle with the big questions about God and living a Christian life. After reading the book, I hoped to meet him…and I did meet him sometime later. He was doing some sort of fundraiser event at the late great Sip & Kranz coffee shop in the Pearl (a trendy neighborhood in NW Portland) and I went to it and even shook his hand and made some sort of awkward fan remark, the exact memory of which which I have nearly successfully repressed. He was gracious but as I turned away I knew that I was never going to be Mrs. Donald Miller. Fun small world connection, though: there was a singer-songwriter guy playing guitar at that fundraiser who I met again years later, when he was the worship pastor at the church we're at now! Portland is the ultimate "small world" city like that.
Middlemarch is another book I was introduced to thanks to St. John's, and probably one I would never have picked up on my own. It's huge, doesn't have a particularly inspiring-sounding title, and is written by a dead white guy (just kidding, actually written by a dead white woman using the name of a dead white guy). [Actually, who am I kidding--being dead and white and a guy is actually a pretty good guarantee that I will have read your stuff, but I digress…] Anyway, Middlemarch, being such a large book, was assigned over Christmas break of my junior year. I think I may have dutifully started reading it on the plane ride home and was engrossed immediately. The characters and plot were complex and intriguing and everything was woven together so beautifully. What I liked most, however, was Eliot's narrative style. Somehow she manages to write affecting and true social commentary without it coming off as an aside or an interruption (in my opinion). I have tried to emulate that in my own fiction writing attempts, but have not succeeded. It's really not easy to do. I wrote my junior essay on the relationship between Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon and their doomed marriage. I also bought the audiobook of Middlemarch and relistened to it after I got married…and the book is even BETTER now that I have the perspective of a married woman and not a single woman, as I was when I read it in college. Eliot writes her way to the hearts of her characters and reveals their stunning human fault and frailty in a way that makes you all too aware of your own shortcomings even while you judge them for theirs. Masterful. I really, really recommend it.
I hated this book at first. I had to read it as preparation for beginning my two-year teaching apprenticeship at the Arbor School and keep a journal of reflections on it. When I read the book, I had never taught at all. It was the summer after I graduated from college and I was heading off to Portland, Oregon to do this teaching apprenticeship (and not at all sure that I even wanted to be a teacher, but I needed to do something!). Everything Nel Noddings said seemed to run contrary to my own experiences, beliefs, and ideals of education. She seemed to have precious little appreciation for the humanities (particularly Classics and my beloved dead languages) and advocated that students should have a relevant and useful education, and if certain subjects are not going to be relevant and useful to them, then those subjects should not be forced upon them. She was anti-elitist, and I had just spent years living the life of the mind in a rather ivory tower (and ivory skinned) campus and had gone to a wealthy private school before that. I was personally affronted by everything she stood for. And yet, the more I wrestled with the book and wrote page after page sorting out what she thought versus what I thought, the more I realized that I could not just throw her ideas aside as so much constructivist mishmash. For one thing, Nel Noddings apparently had been very influential to Kit Hawkins, the founder and director of Arbor, so if I was going to be there for two years I'd better at least try to see things from Noddings' perspective. When I left high school, I did not have a very broad view of the world. St. John's took a crowbar and pried it open wider, and I had to read things that I did not agree with and discuss them thoughtfully with others (and sometimes change my mind about things). This book was the next step in the same process. While I still strongly disagree with some of Noddings' philosophical underpinnings (she is a "rational non-believer" and believes that caring for others is an evolutionary adaptation), I do agree with her fierce belief in taking each student as the "unit of consideration" and not trying to just teach to the middle and hope the higher and lower students will get something out of it. She is very relational in her approach to teaching, and I admire that and have always sought to emulate it. So, while I do not agree in all particulars (whether educational or philosophical) with Ms. Noddings, I certainly respect her work and appreciate all of the thinking it made me do.
I read St. Augustine's Confessions my sophomore year in college and loved it. My dad had a fondness for St. Augustine, having written his dissertation on how Platonic ideas informed Augustine's theology. I really need to read that paper (just as soon as I get around to reading Augustine's "City of God" and rereading Plato's "Republic" as background knowledge…). St. Augustine wrote so eloquently about his own struggles and sorrows that it felt, well, like reading someone's very confessional memoir. I also developed a great admiration of Augustine's mother, St. Monica, who prayed and prayed steadfastly for her son for years seemingly to no effect [spoiler alert: Augustine eventually becomes a Christian, as if the whole "St." title didn't give that away.] When I visited Italy with my parents in 2006, I went to the church of St. Augustine to pray. It was a beautiful place. I would like to go there again someday…although I'd like to know Italian next time.
Allen and I were assigned this book by the pastor who married us as part of our premarital counseling. It was revolutionary because it suggested to me for the first time the idea that maybe the goal of marriage isn't to make you happy but to make you holy; that is, that your spouse may be more of a crucible that refines you than a buddy who just lets you be you. Yes, you should try to marry your best friend or at least become the best friend of your spouse…but they are going to bring things out in you that you didn't know were there, and you wish you didn't know about. Boy has that been true. Shortly before I met Allen I was feeling rather restless spiritually. The 6 years of college and grad school had been a time of intense maturing and in particular having a lot of the self-righteous snotty selfishness shaken out of me. I felt like I was in a holding pattern growth-wise; that I had done all the growing I could do as a single person. And then God was all like "LOL!" and sent me a husband (and then children) so that I could discover entirely new levels of self-righteous snotty selfishness. This book was merely the quiet warning that things could get bumpy when you pair up two imperfect people. I believe it is Billy Graham's wife who said that the best marriage is made up of two good forgivers. I'm discovering that I kind of suck at that. I really, really thought I had gotten better, but I'm still not good at it. Allen is more likely to get really mad and then get really over it, apologize, and move on. I tend to sublimate the mad and pretend to move on, but not really move on. So that's fun. It's a good book, although not particularly "fun" reading.
Okay, so technically I'm 75% of the way through reading this book, but it is definitely rocking my socks off, intellectually speaking. Shea used to be an Evangelical (as the title suggests) and through a series of questions and events [spoiler alert!] apparently comes around to believing that maybe these Catholics are onto something when they speak about having sacred scripture and sacred tradition. It's definitely messing with my very Protestant ideas of the Bible being the final authority on everything by asking questions like, "How can we convincingly argue with someone who wants to add the gospel of Thomas to the Bible the Bible is actually complete as is…and why does the Catholic Bible have more books? And who decides what makes the Bible complete, anyway?" Fascinating questions with answers that are a bit unsettling to the Reformed "sola Scriptura" business that I've just always accepted without thinking about it. Any other Protestants out there who want to read this and discuss it with me should let me know…I'd be glad to have someone else (well, besides Allen of course) to hash it out with; because if there is a logical flaw in his reasoning I have not yet found it. Thanks for taking this journey through my bookshelves with me! There are lots more books so maybe I'll have to do a part two some other time. But for now, my house is CHAOS and my poor husband will be walking back into it any minute, so I have to go.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't Watch This Movie (and Watch "The Snowman" Instead!)

I would love to hear this fellow's (from SNL) take on it 
Look, y'all, I'm no Grinch, but I really don't appreciate bad Christmas/holiday movies, which are to good Christmas movies what Xmas-Muzak is to Christmas carols.  Now, many a classic holiday movie is plenty cheesy, but I'm drawing a distinction between cheesy and bad.  Cheesy movies may cause you to roll your eyes a few times but you still enjoy them overall.  Bad movies make you want the moviemakers to reimburse you for minutes and braincells lost while watching their product.  I'm afraid that we unwittingly subjected ourselves to about twenty minutes of bad movie this weekend, and I am writing to you so that you can avoid the same fate.
The hubs and I decided that since we had not done anything remotely Christmasy yet (like get and decorate a tree), we ought to do something fun and in the Christmas spirit with the kiddos.  Allen remembered going to the Alpenrose Christmas Village as a kid and enjoying it, and when we discovered that it was cheap as free, we decided it was worth a try.  We drove out to Alpenrose (in SW Portland) and proceeded to get everyone into their various winter weather gear, stroller, baby carrier, etc.  We had only been strolling around the Village for a few minutes when Ben got hungry and it was time to make a bottle.  Fortunately, some very kind volunteers managed to procure us a bottle of warm water so we didn't have to wait in line at the food stand to get it; now, where to administer the bottle?  There was a long outdoor line to go into the Christmas Village itself and we didn't think it would be good to feed Ben outside.  "Let's go into the Opera House.  They're showing holiday movies," said Allen.  So in we went.  The Opera House itself is beautiful and apparently boasts a very large and magnificent pipe organ.  On this particular day, however, it was boasting something far less wonderful: a large screen showing "Legend of Frosty the Snowman."
Snow way I'd watch this again...
For the record, I am not a Frosty hater.  I like magical hatted snowmen as much as the next person.  What I don't like is what I perceive to be the trend in modern animated cartoons/movies for kids, and this movie was a prime example: everything is frenetic, even manic in its pacing. I don't mean the pacing of the storyline so much as the actual animation.  The character movements themselves seem way too fast.  It's almost as if the animators are anticipating the goldfish-like attention span of their target audience and not only catering to it but enabling it.  I grew up watching a lot of Looney Tunes, and even the most crazy hijinks of the Coyote and Road Runner seem leisurely in comparison to the way these characters were comporting themselves.  
I did not watch the whole movie, so I cannot comment on the overall plot.  Perhaps it improved in its denouement. I doubt it.  The basic plot seemed to be that the poor kids in the town of Evergreen were being oppressed into mind numbing conformity by their whack job mayor and school principal who loved rules and order too much; thankfully Frosty was around to cause mischief and mayhem and to help the children see that magic is fun and rules are not! I agree that legalism is not healthy, but it was just disappointing to see all the adults as idiots (especially the dads but the moms too) who blindly follow rules and promote them without thinking about them.  There's nothing wise about the parents in this movie.  Allen and I just kept looking at each other incredulously while we were in there and were very relieved when Ben finished his bottle so we could get away from the lunacy.
But, just to show you that I don't hate all magical snowmen, here is a GREAT holiday cartoon from the 1980s.  It is called "The Snowman", based on a book by Raymond Briggs.
It's about half an hour long, and there is no talking.  The quality of the animation is slower and gentler and very sweet.  It also tells a story of a boy and his magical snowman, and there is even some mischief …but the parents are not dupes, ninnies, or idiots.  And the music is so very charming.  I love the song "Walking in the Air," from this movie.  The lyrics aren't necessarily meaningful to me, but the melody is haunting and extremely memorable.  Ruby and Max and I watched it while I gave Ben a bottle this morning, and they loved it. I remember watching it when I was sick one Christmas time (I think I was five or six) and being quite moved by it, even as a little kid.  Do yourself a favor: skip "Legend of Frosty"and watch "The Snowman" instead.

Appearance: Big Deal or Little Deal? Or Both?

There was an ad that used to play on the radio in St. Louis for a certain well-to-do kid's clothing boutique (I no longer remember the name…it was not a franchise, though).  The ad went something like this: "We know that how your children look reflects on you.  Your children are part of your image. At [name of store] you'll find adorable outfits…" and so on.  The first bit was what caught my attention, even as a teen.  Your children are part of your image, and how they appear is a reflection of you.  I found the ad to be very snobby (it didn't help that I knew the store to be located in a very ritzy suburb) and I thought to myself, When I'm a mom, I'm not going to be obsessed with what my kids are wearing.  There are more important things. 
I still think that, and still believe that there are far more important things than what my kids are wearing.  But today, I had to ask myself if I have been in fact PRIDING myself on not caring what they look like--to a fault.  As I walked my daughter into her school room, I noticed the leftover vestiges of peanut butter on her face, her still bed-heady hair, and the sweater she picked that clashed with her dress (not to mention her tennis shoes looking incongruous with her tights and dress outfit that she picked).  I thought, "Uh oh…she is THAT child.  I am THAT mom." 
I almost always let Ruby pick out her own clothes, and have done so ever since she started being able and interested in dressing herself (around 18 months, I think).  Max has shown no interest in even wearing clothes at all, so I pick his clothes and dress him, and obviously do the same for Ben.  Ruby picks out some pretty interesting outfits, and even though I try to make sure she has a mostly mix and match type of wardrobe, that girl is all about layering.  Layering things that cannot possibly go together, even in Portland.  So even though she tends to look, um, eclectic 99% of the time, I haven't really worried about it.  She is getting dressed all by herself (very important life skill) and getting many chances to make her own choices in a realm that I can afford to let her do so.  At least, that is what I thought.  
Now I'm wondering, though.  A few things have brought it to mind.  One was a FB post by a friend from our old church whose four children always look awesome. They are pretty much the most adorably dressed family you've ever seen.  They don't  have matching clothes per se but they are always coordinated.  It doesn't happen by accident, though.  She revealed in her post that she oversees all of their clothing choices for school (exercising mom veto power when necessary) and she packs their clothes for vacations so they will always look good as a unit.  When we went on our trip to North Dakota this past summer, I packed the kids clothes in little ziploc bags for each day, but I gave not a thought as to whether Ruby and Max's outfits went well together (because I don't know what boy clothes go well with their sister's entirely pink wardrobe).  I just made sure they had clean clothes, period.  I don't know if I will ever attain the status of making sure all of my kids coordinate except for special occasions like family photos (which, as you will see in this post, did not particularly help).  
Then I read a few of Kendra's posts (like this one and this one) about how it is very important to her to make sure that she and her six (now seven) kids always look presentable in public because they are ambassadors not only for Christ but also for large families in general, and she wants to be good PR for both of those causes!  That is a laudable statement, and got me thinking about whether I am doing any good in that area.  Mostly when I'm out with all three kids I just get looks of sympathy, bewilderment, or "Oh my, they keep you busy!"  My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law usually tell me I look tired.  Usually I try to be clean and neat on a daily basis in terms of my own appearance, but I will admit that I don't always expect my kids to look clean and neat.  I guess I've been lumping it into the category of, "Ehhh, don't sweat the small stuff.  They are wearing clothes, who cares if they match? And if I changed Max and Ben's outfits every time they got the least bit dirty, I'd be doing even more laundry than I'm already doing (which seems endless)."  Maybe it is small stuff for this season of life (AKA three kids ages three and under!) but maybe it is not.  
Aristotle believed that all behaviors and emotions can be imagined on their own spectra, and that virtue was to be found in the middle of each spectrum, not at either end.  Aim for the means, not the extremes.  For example, the virtue of confidence is the mean between the extremes of arrogance and insecurity.  The virtue of courage is the mean between the extremes of foolhardiness and cowardice.  I think Aristotle is where we derive our saying of "Moderation in all things."  How does one find moderation in this area? Clearly one can go to the extreme of being preoccupied with appearances, which can lead to shallowness and hypocrisy ("I don't care if my kids are like as long as they look nice.")  But perhaps I've allowed myself to drift towards the extreme of slovenliness and calling it "independence" and "practical."  Definitely food for thought.  Any other parents out there have thoughts on this matter?  I'm interested to hear.  For now, though, I'd better go do some laundry…because at least the clothes we are wearing can be clean, if not fashionable!  

Monday, December 16, 2013

When Energy Efficiency is NOT Your Friend

I'm not a really crunchy mom.  In fact, on the Mohs scale, I'm probably just at talc.  While I do my best to recycle and turn off the heat and lights when we leave the house, that's about the extent of my energy-saving ways.  But I don't object to energy-saving efforts made by others, except for two things.

1. Automatic faucets in public restrooms.  
I get that it is a valuable thing not to waste water, and having automatic faucets help with this.  They also make it next to impossible to make a bottle of formula, though.  They almost never stay on long enough to heat up to make anything warmer than a brisk milkshake (or formula shake, as the case may be).  Also, when you're trying to wash the hands of little people, and you have to hoist them up to reach the sink in the first place, their hands usually don't extend far enough to keep the automatic sensor triggered.  

2. Having only air dryers in public restrooms.
I'm guessing that studies have shown that most people, when given the choice between a paper towel dispenser and an air dryer in a bathroom will choose the paper towel.  Hence, I usually only see one or the other, but not both.  Well, I'm sorry, but there are times when having only air dryers will not do!  Like, hypothetically speaking, let's say a mom unknowingly leaves the baby wipes in the car, and the hypothetical two month old son has a blowout nasty diaper.  The mom dutifully wheels her cart into the  store bathroom (with hypothetical 21 month old son in the cart threatening mutiny), gets littlest son on the changing table, and then discovers the lack of wipes.  Okay, no problem, just grab a paper towel (or five) and get them a little bit wet with warm water… uh oh, this bathroom has both automatic faucets and ONLY air dryers!

The mom's hypothetical reaction
I'm just saying that grabbing wads and wads of toilet paper from the stall while the two month old is screaming his head off and the 21 month old is attempting to get out of the cart and yelling in delightful harmony is just not going to cut it.  Hypothetically, of course.  What silly mom of young'ns would possibly do such a ninnyish move as leaving baby wipes in the car???  Oh, the kind that has a hypothetical 3.5 year old who had peanut butter smeared all over her face from breakfast and needed to look a bit presentable for her school pictures.  The wipes were administered but then never returned to the diaper bag.  
That wasn't part of MY day, you understand.  No.  But, hypothetically, it could have been.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Max speaks!

That's the excitement around here today.  Max has been saying "no" with great relish and frequency, but today was his first two word phrase, "ah gah" (all gone) and of course, "wu-ah" (Ruby).  Yay! I'd say he started saying "no" at about 20 months…5 months later than Ruby said her first word (which was "up").
In other news, I came upon this scene earlier today:

I'm still unclear as to how Max got himself stuck in the chair in this position: did Ruby put him in it or did he get into it himself?  One thing is clear: once he was stuck, Ruby seized the opportunity and busied herself with "cutting his hair."  Thankfully no real scissors were involved in the operation, but I'm sure that day is coming. Poor Max...