Tuesday, November 29, 2011

San Fran

We went to San Francisco just after Thanksgiving.  I have wanted to take the kids for a while and do a ton of touristy stuff; Alcatraz, Coit Lighthouse, Kids Museum, Golden Gate Park, the list goes on.  But we were dropping Caskey off at work and then driving the rest of the way home by ourselves.  We had to amend our trip considerably.  We planned a single drive around the most interesting parts of the city, a trolley cable car ride, and then a meal at Google for lunch.  Included in our drive was a trip over both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.

I expected to talk to my kids about urban versus suburban, something Connor is currently learning about in second grade.  I expected to talk to Lainy Ann about California Landmarks and the missions since she is studying California history.  We talked about ports and shipping.  We talked about architecture in the old buildings (scroll work and columns).

But we got a lesson in homelessness too.

We were parked in the not-so-great area of the city while Caskey walked 2 blocks to buy our cable car tickets.  Its so strange that the 'bad area' of the city can be just 3 blocks from the 'nice area'.  But its true.  While we were waiting Lainy Ann asks me, "What is that man in green doing?"  I knew right away who she was talking about.  He was only one of a dozen people I was watching in case we needed to drive away.  He was standing in the middle of the street waving his arms and yelling.  But I didn't want to have that hard conversation with her.  Our kids are so sheltered.  We talk about people who are less-fortunate, we donate to those people, but they never actually see it.  So I answered, "He is crossing the street, slowly."  She didn't accept that answer.  So I told her, "He is crazy, Lainy Ann."  I got that multi-syllabic 'mom' that children are so adept as saying "Mo-o-om".  I sadly told her, "No, really Lainy Ann, he is crazy.  He has a sickness in his brain that makes him crazy.  Because of that he can't get a job and work.  He doesn't have family to take care of him so he sleeps on the streets."  I wanted to cry.  Why does she have to know about these hard parts of life?

Caskey had a similar experience with Connor as we were walking the streets.

I spent a bit of time with my suburban kids in downtown San Francisco today.
Probably the most poignant moment for me was when my oldest boy asked "why was that man digging in the trash can?"

I told him that he was probably looking for either food or cans to recycle. I then explained homelessness and that sometimes people don't have enough to live.
The person in question was choosing to dig through garbage in search of cans which can be redeemed (in California) for a nickel. We discussed the fact that some people choose to sit at the intersections asking for a handout while others are busy digging through the garbage.

My son was able to come to his own appropriate conclusion as to which was the better way to be ... begging for coins or getting off your ass and gathering a resource to sell back for money.

I'm proud of him.

After we explained to the kids that some people do actually live and sleep on the streets Connor almost tripped over a man in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk.  He didn't even notice the man as he ran down the sidewalk looking at the tall buildings.  I'm kind of glad we saw the man sleeping on the ground.  Not because I am glad people do actually sleep on the sidewalk, but we tease our kids so much that I was afraid they didn't believe us when we were explaining homelessness.  

It always amazes me what kind of lessons present themselves as we travel.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent, focusing on the reason

In an effort to focus on the reason for the season our family will be doing a series of Advent activities.  Our focus is on faith, family and charity.  I have spent a few weeks pouring over our family calendar and reading other's suggested lists as well, so I in no way take full credit for this list.  I have compiled the list here for more ideas for other families.

Go Tele-Caroling
Start Listening to Christmas Music
Start Decorate
Saint Nick's Day (December 5th/December 6th)
Make Fudge (and give it away)
Make Cookies (and give them away)
Ding Dong Christmas (kind of like Ding Dong Ditch, but when a Christmas treat)
Sing Joy to the World outside as loud as you can
Christmas Family Movie Night
Christmas Friends Movie Night
Toys for Tots - pick out toys at the toy store and take them to the police station
Choose charitable donation for the year
Look at Christmas Lights
Make cards for soldiers
Make Gingerbread
Put up Christmas Lights
Read Matthew 1-2 to your family
Read John 1
Look at old christmas pictures
Make Christmas ornaments

This isn't quite 4 weeks of Christmas since we are doubling up on a few of the activities.  A few Ding Dong Christmases and lots of family baking.  It occurs to me that we have stopped short of the Annunciation (January 8th).  I will need to go back and ensure we have activities through Christmas day and into January.

I am hoping in a few years I will have a reusable advent calendar that I can put slips of paper into so the kids are surprised each day with the focus of that day.  But this is a great start.  If you have any terrific ideas, please share them with me.  Or if you would rather, join us for movie night or baking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Popping Cranberries

I'm going to tell you something embarrassing, but sometimes we have to do the embarrassing stuff to get to the good stuff. Kind of like learning from your mistakes.

 I like to let the kids try new foods. Think of it as a culinary adventure. In the summer I will pick up interesting new fruits like apple-pears or star fruit. Recently I picked up pomegranate seeds. The kids thought they were yummy, except for the seed part. In the fall I get a variety of squash and we examine or sometimes even bake them. I saw a big bag of cranberries in the store and I thought to myself, wow, what a great treat. After all they love cran-raisins. So after school one day I poured a heaping bowl of fresh cranberries for each child They were so excited. They look red and plump, a little like grapes. Fun. Um, or not. Each child 'ewwwed' and promptly spit it out.

 I was so surprised that they didn't like them. Lainy Ann said, "You should try them, mom." So I did. And then I ewwwed and spit it out. Yuck! While the texture was pleasant they were so sour and bitter. And I laughed and remembered the primary ingredient in my mother's cranberry sauce is sugar. I gathered up all the cranberries and put them away to be used in some other fashion.

 A few days later we decided to have an early Thanksgiving dinner with Grandma Lou. All of our favorite foods abbreviated for a week night; chicken breast instead of turkey, canned candied yams, a Costco pumpkin pie, and canned cranberry sauce. But then I remembered I had raw cranberries in the fridge. So Connor and I set out on another adventure. We followed the recipe on the back of the bag, but honestly I had no idea what I was doing. The recipe said to boil one cup water and one cup sugar. Then add the cranberries until they pop. Then let the mixture simmer to thicken. I don't recall covering 'popping cranberries' in my foods course and my mother makes a very delicious raw cranberry sauce, so her cranberries don't pop either. We decided to just jump right in and if the mixture was horrible then we still had our back up canned cranberry sauce.

 We combined, boiled and then added the cranberries. We waited for them to 'pop'. I was thinking it was going to be kind of like a turkey when the meat thermometer pops out, but honestly I had no idea. Connor became bored with staring at the pot for 10 minutes and started to wander off when POP! Sugar water went flying into the air. POP! POP! POP! More cranberries were popping. We had a crowd at the stove trying to peer into the pot. But not wanting to get too close in fear of the splattering sugar water. The cranberries were literally splitting open from the pressure inside of them created by the heat of the pan. Its was quite fascinating. Connor got his first lesson in splattering food and how much it hurts. When the popping settled down I turned the stove down to simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Once it cooled we had a mixture that was jellied with whole cranberries inside. It was wonderful, and so very easy. I found a variety of recipes online including adding crushed pineapple or pecans. It definitely seems like a recipe I can dress up for the future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Car Key Miracle

I have seen many miracles in my life but none as pronounced as today. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. As we were packing for our Thanksgiving road trip to Oregon we discovered the keys to the Monster Van were missing. We cleared the cobwebs from our brain as we back tracked and tried to remember the last time we saw them and where they were. That's when I vaguely remembered Alexander standing on the couch playing with the switchblade action on the key. He started to wander off with the key and I made a half-hearted attempt to stop him. As he got down off the couch I thought to myself, "that's going to be a problem later . . . . "

Turns out 'later' was today, the day we were packing the car for our road trip. Caskey was ready to pull the car forward so we could load up the back. Two hours later we had torn the house apart. Caskey and I have very different searching strategies. Caskey's strategy is dump everything, sort and walk away. My strategy is clean until everything is in its place and then you will have eliminated that spot. Clearly my way is the better way, especially when dealing with a small object. My strategy also has the added bonus of cleanliness even if you don't find the lost item. So we set out going through the house; Caskey first and I following (cleaning). We searched out all the hidey holes; under the bed, behind the chair, in the toy baskets. Eleanor was in heaven. She thought we were playing with her, so she would sit with us to get in on the fun. She also managed to sample some dusty bunnies along the way.

We gave up when it was time for the Thanksgiving Feast at Robbin's Nest and then at Monte Vista. Eleanor and I enjoyed the feast and indian hats. I smiled and made small talk while I was still racking my brain as to where we hadn't looked. I also continued to update Facebook with my woes, because misery does love company. My friends were very sympathetic and offered up prayers to St. Anthony. I started praying too. After all the eating, visiting and gathering of Thanksgiving crafts William and I headed home to see how the hunt was progressing.

At preschool I had already interrogated Alexander as to the whereabouts of the key and he gave me his I-am-too-cute-to-be-in-trouble-smile. So I decided to ask him again, thinking that being at the scene of the crime would help him remember. We walked into his bedroom where he started asking me about how clean his room was and that his bed had been moved. I told him I had done all that so I could look for the key. He points to the floor, the exact spot I had previously been sitting and digging books out from under the bed, and says, "There it is. The key." I have no other explanation than St. Anthony placed the key there on the floor for us to find, and more importantly for Alexander to find, so he could redeem his actions. I turned to Alexander, "So. Do we play with Mommy's keys?" He answers, "Yes." With that I-am-too-cute-to-be-in-trouble-smile.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Soccer

Lainy Ann is just about to complete her 2nd fall season of soccer. Last fall she played U8 and liked it so much that she followed up with a Graduate Season (a season that focused on the rule changes from U8 to U10) and a Spring Season (which was a no practice, no trophies season). Can you believe every uniform has been red so far? *sigh* I was really hoping for some pink with pigtails.

 I wasn't sure she was going to enjoy soccer last year when we signed her up. We have tried many sports for her over the years; ballet, dance, and gymnastics. But when it comes down to it she has energy and loves to be constantly moving. Dance and ballet required too much wait time between turns. Gymnastics requires a tad more coordination than she has (Thanks, Aunt Lainy). But with soccer she really shines.

 At the beginning of the season she told her coach, "I want to be goalie" and he seemed excited about it. Since U10 is a scored league I was sure to pull him aside and explain that Lainy Ann is an enthusiastic player, code for, lots of will not a lot of skill. Coach assured me he would assess everyone's skill level and place them accordingly. I was just worried Lainy Ann would cause the team to lose games. She has done just the opposite. She has blossomed.

 When AYSO announced there would be a free optional goalie clinic every Friday night from 8 to 9:30 pm she jumped at the chance to go. She didn't miss a single practice. She learned to 'boot' the ball, dive block it, and a variety of other techniques I don't know the name of. Occasionally I would suggest she skip a practice since she also had a game at 8 am. Nope. She always wanted to go, even when it was 55* outside. One particular Friday she had school until 2:30, Girl Scouts until 4:30, speech until 5:30, Cub Scouts until 8 pm and then the Goalie Clinic. She would not miss it.

 She has shown such maturity as she plays. She has kept track of all her gear, been able to ready herself and her things before and after games and practices. She has even taken a few hard hits and not given up. I remember one week she got a ball to the face as she was blocking the goal. I thought for sure she would walk off the field and opt for a low-impact sport. Nope, she shook it off and kept playing. As the season comes to a close I have realized she is not the same player she was in August. At the last game the coach had to have her sit out a quarter (as required by the league). I overheard the other players complaining, "but she is the best. Don't sit her out." Then as she walked off the field other parents told her "Good job. Great block" Later another father said in reference to his daughter and to Lainy Ann" . . . . look at the two best players sitting out in the last quarter."

 I have said it before; I'm not really a sports fan. But I am a Lainy-Ann-Fan. I have loved watching her play. She is so true when she plays. All the business, vibrations and silliness fall away and a young lady stands out there on the field who holds herself accountable to her coach and her team. She is quite a wonderful young lady.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Polite Obstinance

"Me don't want to talk right now" was the reply from the bedroom this morning after Caskey inquired as to what Alexander was doing. He has previously been in trouble twice for not getting dressed for school. He was wandering around the house Donald-Duck-Style, bottomless with a shirt on. But the allure of Legos and trains was too much for him. Each time he was sent into his room to dress he would invariably end up playing instead. So Caskey again inquired as to how he was doing in regards to dressing. He replied with, "Me busy, daddy." Of course he was. He was busy *not* getting dressed. At least he was polite about it rather than just ignoring us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food Connections

I really do love to be in the kitchen. I prefer to bake, but I have also been known to make Thanksgiving dinner. Its amazing how cooking really connects me to people, sometimes to people I don't even know. I like to show my love for someone through food. I find myself thinking and deciding on a special birthday cake months before a persons birthday. And other times when I am following a specific recipe I think of the person who gave me the recipe. My grandmother, who passed away 7 years ago, is always in my kitchen when we make Snowflake cookies. I hope that my children will remember their grandmother whenever they make Snowflake cookies. I think of my mom when I make turkey dinner and her famous cranberry sauce. I think of Caskey's grandmother when I make pumpkin pie or fudge - neither of which are as good as hers. Tonight I was making a new cupcake recipe, altered just a tad. It came to me without a name and since I changed it just a tad I feel like I should get to name it now. Ellie's Cupcakes, Elephant Cupcakes, in honor of the occasion we are making them for, hmmmm . . . . Next cake occasion is Papa's birthday. I think I really outdid myself with last years Peanut Butter Brittle cake. I wonder how I can top that?

Chore Day

At the onset Chore Day doesn't sound like much fun. Invariably the kids complain and drag their feet and grumble. So I set out with clear expectations and a reward at the end. The always have the *option* of not participating in chores, but the alternative is less than fun - napping - no one wants to do that. Today we are doing chores in anticipation of Eleanor's First Birthday Party tomorrow. Rain is possible and although we have only invited our very closest family and friends, it still number 30 people; over half of those are children. Well, we don't live in a house that is fit for entertaining 30 people indoors. Therefore, we are working extra hard at clearing every extra inch of space, just in case. Connor has helped by making banana bread all on his own. Lainy Ann and Caskey had the unfortunate job of getting rid of squishy mildewy pumpkins. William helps intermittently, but I feel his primary job is to keep Alexander and Eleanor entertained. As we have processed through the day there have been gems of laughter and learning. Connor volunteered to clean the couch cushions. He even vacuumed it out and then vacuumed the rug. We taught him to use the vacuum properly, what all the knobs and switches do and how to even wrap up the cord correctly. Lainy Ann decided to learn how to make macaroni and cheese (the blue box). She made the entire dinner, minus draining the pasta. We had a few laughs too. Caskey spent a long time cleaning the desk and got a little territorial about it. I think he even growled when I tried to put some mail on the desk. Tensions ran high so there was no better way to break it than give Caskey a purple mustache. A nice twirly handlebar mustache! Don't worry, it was washable. The boys became jealous of his mustache so he mustached them as well, but their are in Sharpie! All in all it was a great chore day; banana bread, cupcakes, dinner, and a clean house, learning about cooking and vacuuming, and some mustache fun.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkins for my Pumpkins





For the first time in 8 years I took my kids to the pumpkin patch. I normally get out of this duty because Grandma Lou and Papa Tom have the kids for a sleep over and then take them to the pumpkin patch while Caskey and I get a little adult time. But this particular fall has been busy, for everyone. We almost just skipped the whole thing and opted for pumpkins from the grocery store. But because of all my wonderful blog posts Grandma started feeling guilty. She was going to take 4 of them all by herself, but I had pity on her and we all went together.

First of all, OMG! Its is EXPENSIVE. The pumpkins aren't, they are very reasonable. it is the cost for the pony ride (the pony goes in a circle), the train ride (yeah, its not a train) and even the corn maze. It really is over the top. But its one of the ways that Grandma likes to indulge the kids, so they got to do it all.

My favorite part of the whole day was the scarecrow competition they have displayed in the sunflower alley. It was pretty comical for the younger age groups and down right scary for the older age groups. Some of my favorites were ghoulgle earth and angry birds.

As is the way of southern California fall, its was blaringly hot. The kids had a blast though climbing a pyramid of hay, getting their faces painted and pouring over hundreds of pumpkins for the best/most perfect one. I had a great time with the kids and sharing something new with them. It was a lot of fun being with my mom too and letting her teach me something about the kids. However, if they offer another sleep over followed by a trip to the pumpkin patch without the kids . . . . you bet I will be taking that deal.
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooks in the Kitchen

I remember as a young child helping my mother in the kitchen. She had the horribly ugly avocado-green pyrex nesting bowls. They were the perfect size and had a spout for pouring batter. Its funny that I ended up furnishing my own kitchen with modern versions of utensils in my mother's kitchen. In fact I went on an ebay hunt shortly after I was married for pink not-ugly pyrex nesting bowls. We mostly baked in my mother's kitchen, which is probably why I mostly bake now. I always knew I wanted to cook and bake for my children. Its such a good way to spend time together, demonstrate your love, and a yummy end result. When Lainy Ann was 9 months old I plopped her in the high chair in our first house so she could 'help' me bake banana bread, a Christmas favorite from my childhood. I mashed up some banana for her to eat while I made several loaves of banana bread. I still love making banana bread today and there are quite a few family members that want a small loaf whenever I get to baking. I even have one friend who is highly allergic to bananas, but she says my banana bread is worth the allergic reaction. So every Christmas the kids have helped with the holiday baking, as I did with my mother. But Connor has been enjoying baking so much that he will join me in the kitchen for no reason at all. We have started making muffins once a week. We make a double batch and store them for breakfast for a week or two. Connor is getting so good at reading a recipe that he does the majority of the work now. I help with filling the muffin tins and taking them out of the oven, but he does the rest himself, INCLUDING the clean up. I have even invited him into the kitchen to help be collaborate on birthday cakes. I wonder what his next kitchen accomplishment will be. Maybe I should teach him to make an entree.


Eleanor will be one in just a week. I just can't believe it. I am sure its because she is our last baby, but its just seems like this last year has flown by. I can't believe she was ever so little that I could put her somewhere and she would stay still. Nowadays she fights, yells and cries if I try to change her diaper or change her clothes. It seems she wants nothing to do with me, unless of course I am using the computer, in which case she wants to 'help'. She, just like the others, thinks she is big. She crawls into the boys rooms and will play legos with them or watch a movie with them. I find I get a lot of chores done in the kitchen in the early afternoon because she will follow around William and Alexander and play with them. Even when the kids are playing Just Dance on the Wii she will stand and dance with them. I am starting to think that the first year was the easy year. All the cuteness and bows and squishy loving. She would cuddle in my arms for hours. She would fall asleep anywhere. She was clean and perfect all the time. Now she prefers to sleep in her crib on her belly. So even though she is exhausted she will stay awake if we are away from home. She has stayed up until 10 pm just because she was so interested in the world around her. Fortunately she isn't too crabby either, she just kept trying to burrow into me and sleep. She is expressing her opinion, throwing tantrums, exploring the world around her. She gets dirty and pulls her bows off her head. She is no longer clean. But she has personality. She loves to laugh with Alexander. She loves to eat, everything. She is definitely learning. Her newest tricks are climbing stairs, nodding her head yes, listening to the word no and waving bye-bye. I think this next year will be interesting. I am so glad she is part of our family. She is still by far our easiest going child. I can leave her in the stroller for an hour at soccer practice or in the classroom while I volunteer. She isn't timid and is happy to be held by most everyone. As long as she is with her siblings she is perfectly happy. I look forward to getting to know Eleanor. But knowing her siblings and her personality so far, I know she will fit in just fine!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Scarred for Life?

Lainy Ann asking lots of questions about the rat dying. Being brave enough to look at it in the trap and listening to is squeak. I thought for sure she was going to cry or say ewww gross or be otherwise creeped out but she was very brave. In fact, she was braver than I. I was standing on the porch, much closer to the front door than the rat trap kind of peering towards the trap, but happily not able to see anything. But when I realized that Lainy Ann was courageously walking toward the rat with no fear I realized I had to brave too. For no other reason than to be able answer her questions later. I felt badly because some people keep rats as pets. Lainy Ann mentioned that. So we talked about domesticated pets versus wild animals and disease. I still felt like we had traumatized our child. But then I realized there are lots of children who start hunting at young ages. There are even more children raised on farms and aware of the need to kill animals for food or pest control (as in this case). I guess we sheltered her long enough. And since she han't asked about it since I guess it was time.


Its all Orange and Green. Its why WIlliam had a*green* puppy cake for his birthday and Alexander had an *orange* A. Its why every day after school Alexander hands me drawing done with an orange crayon. Its why William goes to school in a green shirt most days and Alexander goes to school in an orange shirt.

I feel a little bad for them, honestly. We randomly assigned the colors to keep track of their bath towels. Then if I am buying 4 flashlights I make sure to give the green one to William and the orange one to Alexander, just so I can remember which belongs to who. But they have really latched on to these random colors. If we see something green at the store - a cup or toy - Alexander will tell me, "William needs this because its green." Just recently Alexander dissolved into screams in church during the Homily because William wouldn't take the green pencil. "William's pencil is GREEEEEEEEEN!!!!!" Connor was assigned blue, as the first born boy. Currently if he has a color choice it is red, or black or grey (which is just a light black). And Lainy Ann, who was assigned pink, has recently started preferring turquoise or yellow. Yellow happens to be her bff's favorite color. Eleanor has been assigned purple. I wonder how all that will work out. Especially since most days she is wearing pink.