Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pictures of the Palace

Okay, folks, I promised pictures of the new place and I'm finally delivering.  Well, actually, I'm delivering in the form of a video, because I thought that would be a little easier.  It is short, and if you like before/after stories (especially the horrific "before" parts), you'll want to carve out the four and half minutes for this.

Here are some pictures of the yard.  If you're a landscapey/garden-minded person, please feel free to give advice.  I want to get it looking nicer but don't have a lot of practice with such things. 

The view of the front of the trailer; driveway is on the right

The corner of our property.  The brickwork is funky but I'm not sure why, yet.  And yes, that is bamboo out front :(

Our yard (mostly patio)

The entry to the patio (more bamboo)

The trunk of a HUGE pine tree which is littering much of the yard with pine needles

You can see the line where the grass ends and the pine needles begin.  I already pulled up some ivy from there.
Here are my little garden helpers!

Anyone know what those shrubby plants are? 

There you have it.  Allen and some friends of his have been doing demo all week and finding out all kinds of things (some good, some not so good).  Lots of black mold and water damage, but we are going to get all of that taken care of.  The ceiling doesn't seem to be sagging as originally suspected, so that's good. Lots of work to do, and Allen is really busting his butt to get it all done.  I'd venture to say he's working about 60-80 hour weeks right now: 40 hours at his "real job" and then the rest at his side jobs and this place.  What a man, what a man, what a mighty fine man!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Max's 2nd Birthday Party

You didn't think I was going to leave you all without photographic evidence of Max's birthday, did you?

Well, you might have been justified in thinking that, because it was super, duper low-key.  All five Cooks are sick to one degree or another (although I'm thinking the kids are on the mend), and I woke up feeling exhausted and not at all refreshed.  I didn't even want to make breakfast.

Luckily, with a birthday kid in the house, I had the perfect excuse to go to Haggen to get some donuts.  First, of course, they had to get properly accoutered…

Ruby felt that mittens on her feet would be the best course of action

Helping Max with Dad's hat

So chic

Back to eye patching… :/
 The kids were excited to get donuts for breakfast, which is a very special treat!

After breakfast, we headed to the library, where I let Ruby and Max each pick out an Elmo DVD.  We paused for a quick stop at the playground...

…and headed home.  The rest of the day was spent in Mommy trying to get things done/get some sleep while kids watched videos and played.  The boys did take a nap, but Ruby seems to be transitioning out of naps :(

I did make a cake for Max which I'm pretty proud of.  I'm no cake decorator, but I think I did a pretty good job on Max's ocean/aquarium themed cake.

I just used a chocolate cake mix and frosting from a can (with blue and teal food coloring gel paste), plus a few "Nordic Fish" (as the Winco bins titles them) and some choco-rocks (which look very pebble-y but taste like Krackel bars).  It was a big hit.

Not sure how to blow out the candles yet besides getting really close

We invited Ruby to help, but she couldn't do it either

Mommy saves the day

It's kind of nice to see myself in some pictures! Usually I'm the one behind the camera, but in this case Allen took the helm.  

It was a nice and easy birthday.  So easy that we forgot to give Max his present, and he's still young enough not to know to expect one!  Ruby, on the other hand, is now eagerly anticipating her birthday, which is in just under two months.  And you'd better believe she knows about presents!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tribute Tuesday: Max-Pascal!

Oh my, can it be two years since Max graced us with his presence?  It doesn't seem possible!
(More adorable newborn pictures can be found here, and birth story here)
Is there anything better than napping with snuggly newborns?!  I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more delightful than that.  Combining sleep and a precious baby is a total win-win in my book.  

Max is my second child but my first son.  Of course I knew in a factual sense that he would be a totally different little person than his sister, but it's so amazing to see all the ways in which their personalities emerge and develop.  

Max loves his siblings.  He loves Ruby, even though they have lately been bugging the heck out of each other by being possessive and grabby of the other's things.  They sleep in the same bed (one at each end) because they like to keep each other company.  

At first I wondered how Max was going to handle the transition from being the baby of the family into being the middle child (at the tender age of 18 months!).  I had heard many cautionary tales of such transitions being difficult and full of aggression and jealousy, so I was prepared for the worst.  

Thankfully, Max has been nothing but loving towards Ben, or "baby" as Max calls him. Sometimes his loving is a bit too rough for Ben's tiny frame but I have never seen Max do anything remotely aggressive towards him.  I'm sure that when Ben become mobile and takes Max's toy there will be some squabbling, but for now, Max is Ben's number one fan (and vice versa).  

Max has some "all-boy" traits (like throwing everything he can get his hands on), but he also is very tenderhearted.  He loves wrestling with Daddy and snuggling with Mommy.  

Not too old to mind riding in the baby carrier...

...when he just didn't want to be apart from me
He's a beautiful boy…his lashes have to be an inch long, and it's not Maybelline!  I love my blondies, but my only brunette (so far) is quite the looker!

Hard to get him to hold still!

Max can go from terrible twos screaming banshee one minute to snuggle bug the next.  If I had to guess, I'd say that physical touch might be one of his top love languages, because he can be so affectionate and loves to be held and comforted when he's upset.

Max was slower to speak but now his vocabulary is growing exponentially.  I can't wait to hear the things he has to say.  If he's anything like Ruby, he'll say the darndest things!

I love you, Max, and I can't wait to see the boy, youth, and man you will grow into.  I pray that you will never outgrow your love for "Deesus!" and will always say "Ameh!" with much meaning and exuberance.  I hope you'll always treasure your siblings and love spending time with them as you do now, even when you drive each other crazy.  May we teach you well and raise you up rightly.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Worn Down (an apologia for lack of blogging)

I feel like a clock whose batteries are on the verge of being done: just getting slower and slower, more and more out of sync with real time.

I'm pretty sure there's a medical reason behind this.  Last Monday, I finally had the appointment with my GP that I'd been waiting 6 weeks to have.  I told her about my symptoms which seemed to match perfectly with those of hypothyroidism.  She looked at my blood tests from January and said, "No, when your thyroid levels are this low, it means you have hyperthyroidism."

Well, I'd done enough WebMD searches to know that the symptoms for hyperthyroidism are, unsurprisingly, mostly opposite of what I was experiencing.  Rapid heartbeat, shaking, tremors, increased nervousness (okay, that one was applicable), rapid weight loss: these were not my symptoms!

When I attempted to make this known to the doctor, she looked at me with a somewhat glazed expression (probably that of one who has seen too many patients already in one day) and said, "Well, let's order some more blood tests, and I'll refer you to get an ultrasound of your thyroid."  So off to the lab room I went (with all the kids in tow).  In case you were wondering, it is not enjoyable to hold a writhing and screeching 27 pound toddler boy in your left arm while having several vials of blood removed via long needle from your right arm.  I don't advise it. Next blood draw, I'm getting a babysitter.

I got the ultrasound on Thursday (and a friend from church blessedly watched all the kids so I didn't have to keep tabs on anyone).  Now I'm waiting to hear the results.  Meanwhile, the doc prescribed me medication based on the new blood test results, which confirmed once again that my thyroid levels were low (meaning hyperthyroidism), BUT the medication she prescribed is meant to combat hypothyroidism. Color me confused.  I'm not going to take the meds until I can get a straight answer from this doctor, and now that the weekend is over I'm going to be calling until I get through to her.

Add to this the cold virus that just won't die; it has been circling around the family for weeks now.  I had the boys tested for RSV and pneumonia and they were clear of that.  Just a virus, nothing to do but drink water, rest, etc.  It seems that as soon as one family member's cold clears up it just goes on to the next person.  I know that's not shocking but it's definitely aggravating!

Due to the general physical malaise (despite exercising and eating right, darn it!), I feel incapable of keeping up with daily tasks, and definitely incapable of blogging regularly.  It hasn't been for lack of things to write about.  Here are the things I was *going* to write about last week:

*a (former) teacher's take on that "I hate Common Core math letter" meme thing that's been all over Facebook
*all the interesting conversations I've been having with Ruby
*a couple of articles for Real Housekeeping on WIC recipes and cleaning products I like
*a clean up link up about wall washing and general spring cleaning
*photos of the new house and yard
*reflections on self-esteem with regard to physical appearance and working out
*tributes to Mr. Salomon (my acting teacher) and LP (former director of athletics during my time at St. John's and rowing coach), along with a tribute to Max who turns 2 tomorrow!
*Psalm 71 (2 weeks late)
*some other things I've since forgotten

It just hasn't happened.  Falling into bed (after shoving aside mountains of laundry), that's what's happened.

I'm hoping to be doing better soon, and hopefully more present in the blog world.  I know that blogging isn't an obligation (oblogation, ha ha) but it is helpful and enjoyable.  I like to do it. I'm just not getting to it. In the words of Chandra, sigh sigh.  On to the day ahead!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Worthy Cause...

I don't personally know this family, but a friend of mine does and posted this on her FB wall.  I looked into the family's story, and it is so grievous.  Two daughters (ages 3 and 6) killed in a horrible car accident; in my opinion, you don't need to know a family personally to be able to sympathize with them at such an awful time.

There is a fund set up to help them cover medical and funeral expenses; because even though it seems like adding insult to injury, bills must be paid, even in such grief.  I made a donation, hoping that even the little we gave can go a long way in helping them, and I will be praying for them.

Won't you consider reading their story, sending up prayers, and maybe contributing to the fund by clicking the hyperlink?  If you are a Christian, you are commanded to love each other in both spiritual and tangible ways. If you are of some other faith or none at all, you most likely feel it a matter of basic human dignity to help those in need.  It's a situation where we can all come together to help each other, and there seem to be precious few of those opportunities seized upon nowadays.

Thanks for thinking about it and double thanks for acting on it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tribute Tuesday from a Daddy's Girl

Back to Tribute Tuesday this week after taking a week off from, well, just about everything last week!  I’m celebrating someone who has a birthday this week (the 19th) and without whom I wouldn’t even be here.  That’s right, I’m talking about my daddy-o.

Where do I begin? I think it is only over the past 12 years or so that I’ve truly come to appreciate the father I’ve had.  There was never a time when I was unhappy to have him for a dad, but years and years of taking him for granted.  

You know how a child thinks that every family is like her own?  That every family goes to church on Sunday morning, takes long summer vacations in the car to visit relatives, and eats homemade pizza once a week, just because hers does?  I was that child.  

He knows the best places to get pizza in the 'Lou (hint: not Imo's! Sorry, but we're Imo's haters)

Of course, I was slowly disabused of the notion that all families are like mine over time, mostly by meeting other children whose families did things differently.  And while I met many other fathers, I can’t ever remember looking at someone else’s dad and thinking, “Wow, I wish MY dad were more like that.”  There were many dads out there who were cooler and more “with it” in a cultural sense, but I never wanted that as a trait in my dad.  

Still, that’s not a very deep level of appreciation.  My appreciation deepened more in college when I started meeting people who either never knew their fathers or had horrible fathers: tyrants, pedants, aggressors, manipulators.  I didn’t disbelieve these accounts I heard, but there was major cognitive dissonance.  My own experience had been so utterly unlike those bad ones I heard about.  

My appreciation and respect for my dad has deepened further still upon becoming a wife and mother and watching Allen become a husband and father. My parents made marriage look so easy! I truly can’t remember ever seeing them have an argument.  I think they must have had at least one after I was born (and I’m the oldest), but I can’t remember it.  

A proud new dad trying to calm yours truly when I was a colicky beast

My dad made fathering look easy, too.  I’m sure he had a lot of other things he’d rather have done after coming home after a day’s work of teaching, but he always took time to play with us in the evening when we were little.  Usually it was building with Legos or maybe watching some classic cartoons together (you haven’t truly enjoyed old school Warner Brothers cartoons until you’ve heard my dad laughing till he cries at the antics of Bugs Bunny and Elmer and the gang).  When we were really little, there was often “ruff-tuff”, which was basically my brother Chris and I wrestling Dad to the ground and squealing with delight as we tried to evade his tickles and “belly blasters” (giving a raspberry on someone’s tummy).  
Here's that "goofy" part I was talking about
Yes, he made time to play with us or read to us, sometimes help put us to bed, and usually clean up the kitchen so my mom could go to bed (she tends to crash early and get up early)...and THEN would get to his own school work, since a teacher always takes his/her work home. And later I discovered that after his work was done, he would get out his Bible or his Book of Common Prayer and have some quiet time of prayer and reflection.  Nothing showy, never tooting his own horn about “taking his daily devotional time” or whatever: just spending time with God.  

Poor Allen.  And not Allen as a person, but poor ANY MAN that I married.  I didn’t even know that I expected all of these things from a husband and the father of my children until it didn’t all play out like I’d grown up seeing it play out. It was like the “What?? Your family doesn’t eat homemade pizza?” phenomenon all over again.  

What do you mean that you don’t plan to invent a silly game called Gabloop and play it in the driveway with our children?  

What do you mean you aren’t going to clean the kitchen every night so I can go to bed whenever I feel like it?  

What do you MEAN you aren’t going to make it a priority to clean the house and do yard work every Saturday while listening to Billy Joel??!!  

Even though I, of course, logically knew that whomever I married was not going to be just like my dad, I still somehow expected that they would essentially be like my dad, just with different tastes.  Fewer sweater vests, film noir and Pinot Noir, perhaps: but all in all, basically the same person.
Sunrise, Sunset, swiftly fly the years...
Heh, wrong-o.  I married an extremely different man than my dad. Allen is the take-no-prisoners, don’t play for the “fun” of it soccer warrior to my dad’s occasional, collegial racquetballer; he’s the blue collar construction worker to my dad’s Ph.D in Philosophy; my husband is the guy whose car is vibrating to the sound of Top 40 hits whereas my dad shares my affinity for musical scores at much lower decibel ranges.  In a lot of ways, they couldn’t be more different.  

In marriage, however, we’re called to leave our parents and bond to our new spouse instead, creating a new family unit.  I’m very proud of the family that Allen and I have started and, God willing, will continue to bring them up as they grow in wisdom and stature.  While I have left my parents’ house and authority, I haven’t lost my admiration for them, and especially my dad.  I am so grateful that I grew up with a man of gentle strength, great intellect, fun-loving goofiness, and quiet godliness.  

I haven’t even touched on all the things I could that I love about my dad.  Here’s just a few in bullet points:
  • road trips with just the two of us, first when I was looking at colleges, and then when I was going to and from St. John’s every summer...these times were always filled with great conversations about anything and everything
  • A weekend trip to San Francisco in 2007
  • his terrible puns
  • his writing style, which I think I’ve consciously and unconsciously emulated for years now
  • his love of all things Greek, Roman, and philosophical

  • his interest in always finding new things to be interested in (making stained glass lamps and panels, wine, film noir, microbrews, cooking methods, liturgical traditions, photography)...not in a fad kind of way, like Mr. Toad from “The Wind in the Willows”, but to be a sincere connoisseur
  • when I was sick with a nasty flu bug in second grade or so, he came home and began to read aloud “The Hobbit” to me...and so began several years of reading aloud from chapter books to all of us kids before bedtime
  • Peeking at Ruby on a break in our car trip up to Chautauqua, NY in 2011
  • watching him dandle his grandchildren on his knee in a most gratifyingly doting fashion
  • his laugh when we’re watching movies or cartoons that crack him up (or just listening to my brothers rib each other, which is also amusing)
  • his genuine interest in things that I was interested in (musicals, Caedmon’s Call, my thoughts on anything I was reading at St. John’s)
  • his commitment to my mom for nearly 34 years of marriage and his obvious affection for her

I could go on still further, but you get the point!  

Dad, thanks for being such a great inspiration and influence.  For all the years I took your awesomeness for granted, I’m sure I will have twice as many of being so thankful to be your daughter.  

Life in the Cookie Jar

Sunday, March 16, 2014

7QT: The Late, Late edition

Well, lookee here…it's late at night on Sunday and I'm just now getting the Friday Quick Takes up.  Didn't even get to Psalm 71 as advertised last Sunday.  Does it ever happen to you that when your usual routine is disturbed it takes you a long time to get back into the swing of things?  I had the loveliest of disturbances (see take #2) but I am really having a hard time getting back into gear.

Crickets have been chirping on the ol' blog this week, but that's only because I've been far too busy hanging out with Chandra, my awesome cousin/soul sister from another mister.  She spent a week with us before jetting down to L.A. for work purposes (ha, just a convenient excuse to bask in the sun, says I).  The weather here was pretty nice for her: not too rainy and several days of warm spring sunshine.

Playing at an awesome kid cafe in Vancouver

Handsome like daddy

Max and Chandra playing trains
Our mutual friends Sarah and Joel kindly hosted her in their Vancouver home, so I did a lot of driving back and forth between the 'Couv and Oregon City.  Sarah and Joel's house is like the best vacation resort for the kids (and us, let's be honest).  The kids were just pumped to take a bath in a REAL BATHTUB again!  We are easy to please.

Chandra read many, many books

Bob the Builder has met his match

Stop taking my picture Mom!

Incidentally, I'm thinking that I'm going to need to invent a new line of apology/condolence cards for Sarah and Joel after we visit them.  Seems like every time we do, we ruin something of theirs or cause illness and/or distress.  And there's a distinct lack of "Sorry I backed into your car" or "My sincerest apologies for perhaps introducing the MRSA virus into your humble abode" Hallmark cards out there.  (And those were not even from this visit! That was last time!  Although, to be fair, it wasn't MRSA, just a regular old virus.)
Chandra also did yeoman godmother service by babysitting all three kids over night so Allen and I could take a much needed date night away.  We had a classic married couple with young kids date: used a Groupon for a non-fancy hotel near the Convention Center right next to the MAX line train (which rattled the room every few minutes), ate at the hotel restaurant with good food and terrible service, watched the Portland Trailblazers get whupped on TV, and then passed out…and enjoyed every minute of it!

Chandra did not look too much the worse for wear the next morning, although she did not say no to a venti coffee from Starbucks ;)
Weighed in on DietBet…and did not make the goal for the first round.  I have lost an inch from my bust, waist, and hip measurements, though, so I'm happy about that.  I also think that the cheap digital scale we got is, well, cheap.  Allen was testing it out and apparently depending on which floor tile you use, it can add to or subtract from a pound of weight.  It also reports that a person can fluctuate about five pounds in a 12 hour period.  Is that even accurate?? I don't really trust it.

After this month, I'm getting out of the DietBet thing anyway, for two reasons.  Reason one: I don't want to be obsessive about weight loss.  The truth is that I am NOT interested in doing crazy diets or insane workouts to win something.  I want the weight to go away slowly and reasonably, and that might not happen in just six months.  I also am still waiting to hear about my possible hypothyroidism (which can make weight loss more difficult than normal, among its other symptoms), so that could be affecting things adversely.

Reason two: DietBet is kind of a ridiculous first-world solution to a first-world problem. In the mail the other day I received a flyer from my friend Katie Nelson, who works at a non-profit ministry called Lahash.  Through Lahash, individuals can sponsor children in need for--you guessed it--the same amount of money per month that I'd be paying into the DietBet pot.  Let's see here…which is a worthier cause?  Oh yeah, feeding children who don't get enough to eat and helping them to have access to clean water, food, and education.
Big week here at the Cookie Jar: we bought a house!  And no, I don't have picture yet.  Soon, soon!  It's a manufactured home in a mobile court (or, as some like to say, a trailer home in a trailer park).  It is small (642 sq. ft) but as you'll know if you've read this blog for any length of time, that's a step up for us!  The rent for the park space (since we don't own the land on which the house rests) is also cheaper than the rent here by $200 and still includes the same utilities (water/sewer/garbage).  We won't owe a mortgage payment because we were able to buy it outright…woo hoo!

It's a bigtime fixer, of course, but all things that Allen feels confident that he can manage.  I'm thrilled that it has a fenced yard with some space for a garden.  I'm not a great gardener by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I've been inspired by recent articles on Real Housekeeping and want to give it a try.
Speaking of Real Housekeeping, I did actually do the Friday challenge of cleaning out the pantry.  Here are my "before" photos:
The main pantry cupboard

Cereal (unopened)

Cereals we're actually working through and appliances

Mostly baking related items here

That last one is our solution to the insufficient amount of actual cupboard space.  We took the "entertainment center" from our last house and made it into more cupboard space.  But as you can see, it was getting a little bit messy…and ant-ridden.

Yes, not long ago I wrote about how I was actually feeling somewhat tolerant of the ants in our house.  But that changed when I started noticing that they were making a trek from the windowsill all the way to the pantry cupboard.  And I found out why!  I thought I was joking about being an ant welfare state, but when I started poking around the cupboard I found this:

What the!?

They're not even forming an orderly line at this location!
To add insult to injury, the ants had formed a disturbing layer of antyness around my $8 bottle of French Vanilla Torani Syrup, and some had even GOTTEN INSIDE THE LID.  There ended my tolerance. You walk all over my countertops, my table, even the pantry?  Okay.  But get into my coffee flavoring and we are DONE.

Needless to say, the bottle was washed thoroughly and all sugary pantry items were moved into the fridge.  My aunt suggested I put out cornmeal (apparently it is indigestible to ants) so I decided to sabotage their welfare office and put some there overnight until I got around to cleaning the pantry the next day.

(Note: Some readers may think that I am poking fun at people who receive food stamps or any other kind of welfare by making an ant version of a DHS Self-Sufficiency Office.  This is not the case.  I am not in any way contemptuous of people in need of government assistance, seeing as we are among them.  I just thought it was funny to imagine ants doing the same thing.)
Okay, here are the "after" pictures (which, hilariously enough, don't even properly correspond to all the "before" pictures…but you know what, it's late and what the pote people I don't even currrr anymore):
Much better!

I never remember to have this curtain drawn but it exists

Spiffed up a bit: look at all of those beans waiting to be turned into WIC win dinners!

Didn't show the before version, oops, but trust me, this is better!
My cleaning routine was pretty simple: wipe everything down with Lysol wipes, do some repackaging and throwing away old stuff (did you know nuts could go rancid?  I didn't, until I cleaned out my jar of assorted bags of nuts).  

There you go.  Multiple days late, multiple dollars (and brain cells) short, but I finally got some blogging done. And now, bed.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!