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Friday, December 24, 2010

holly jolly

The girls and I just got back from some last minute errands.  We were downtown at Epic Sports (locally owned outdoorsy store.)  I was more than a little pleased that when we walked in Ella said, "Oh!  I love this place!"

While they zig zagged in and out of clothing racks, shoe displays and Turtle Fur, I did my shopping and went up to pay.  I told the cashier how much my kids love it there...but I wasn't entirely sure where they were.

Just then a woman walked in the front door and said, "Does anyone know that there are two little girls in the window display?"

I found them among the felt snow, the hanging snowflakes and the giant snowman - they were holding up a tree that they had knocked down.  At least they were responsible in their rule breaking.

While Santa will be flying tonight for most, he will be making a special trip to our house on the 29th since Sandi is at work for the next 5 days.  We have other Christmasy plans but it isn't quite the same when our team is one player down (and by not the same I mean it's like taking the net and the racquets away from a tennis court and still calling the game tennis) so we are doing our best to make it fun and see the people we love.  My mom spends the night tonight and we will go together to my sister's tomorrow.  Still, the girls get that it is Christmas Eve for everyone else and they are full of the cheer and are shouting "Merry Christmas!" to everyone and anyone.

I told Ella when we got home we were going to make some cut out sugar cookies to take to the Manhart's for Christmas Eve.  She replied, "Oh that is good.  The only problem is I eat too much cookie dough and then I don't feel good.  It is like part of my body is saying 'don't eat anymore!' and the other part is saying 'I want more!' and its kind of like a fight in there."

Welcome to my world.

Christmas in Downeast Maine

We've had Christmas all over the month of December this year. With Sandi working a five day stretch from the 24th-28th, we had to be creative.  We decorated early and have enjoyed the cheery coziness of the house all month.

The girls enjoyed it so much that some twirling was called for.

We spent the weekend before Christmas on Beals Island celebrating with the Carvers.  Somehow we manage to pack a ton into one weekend from Christmas Eve lobster dinner to painting nails and braiding bread, we fit it all in.

A long standing family tradition is for Patti to read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."  Now her most captive audience is a rowdy six and under bunch. 

Me and Brock (Trisha's boyfriend) who I've passed the braiding torch to. It is hard to explain how this braided bread became such an integral part of Christmas because I'm not certain I know (I think it is something as unexciting as finding the recipe in a Yankee Swap cookbook and making it once for pleased mouths and now it is in demand annually) but I love it. I have to make 2 giant loaves because the family perfoms some serious disappearing magic on it.

There was even an appearance from Buzz Light Year.
And a giant catepillar.

Our girls had no choice but to seek some downtime...
Sandi's dad Dwight- a perfect picture of his characteristic twinkling eyes.

The next day it was on to the children's program at church. 

I really have no idea what came over Ella, originally declining any participation in the program.  But she (and not surprisingly Maya) quickly grew to love the spotlight.
Sometimes it is hard to remember to keep perspective when there is an overwhelming amount of stimulation from the littlest members of the family but I tried to adopt the mantra:  "relax- these years are short." 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the war is over

This post is for any of you that care that we have been boycotting Target because of their campaign contribution to an anti-gay candidate.  It has been hard.  It has been months. 

And then a Christmas miracle. 

The Human Rights Campaign scores big businesses by how gay friendly they are- a green rating is the best (it means companies that support LGBT equality in the work place and that HRC suggests you support. ) Just in time for Christmas, HRC gave Target a green rating!!!!

I've been somewhat bothered by the apparent inconsistencies in how big business conducts themselves and what to give credence to (how can a company we and all our friends have been boycotting get the highest gay friendly rating?) but as our friend Katie said, how they treat their gay employees really says it all.  Do they offer domestic partnership benefits?  Is it a good, fair place for gay people to work? I guess the answer is yes.

So today the drought was over and I stepped over the electronically controlled threshold of my Bangor Target. I told Ella I was going to Target today and she said, "What?  I thought we didn't shop at Target."  My good little activist.

I expected red carpet and champagne ("oh you're back!"  "we've missed you!") but somehow was content enough with the giant sparkly ornaments hanging from the ceiling, the familiar sights, my easy navigation of the store (even without my list which was on the kitchen table at home).  And I was oh so grateful NOT to be in Walmart...The cashier didn't give me any knowing smiles and I managed to refrain from explaining my absence to her.

As I calmly, joyfully walked up and down the aisles Maya smiled at me knowingly and said, "Momma, you love Target, don't you?"

Portable North Pole

To keep up with our Santa lies, we created these two videos from Santa.  This pretty much drives the deception home.  Sandi's mom found this site last year and the girls loved it so we did it again this year. It's free too!

We made a "you've been naughty" one for my mom and told her she was on the bad list for peeing in the shower.  She didn't think it was as funny as we did...

Rudolph rerferring and other kindergarten lunch adventures

Yesterday, as a kindergarten lunch volunteer, I was presented with a highly unusual situation- one I should have, but did not see coming.

"Is Rudolph alive?"  one little boy asked me.

"Yes, he is!" another excitedly answered.

"No, he isn't!  My mom told me!  Santa has 8 reindeer! Rudolph isn't real!" vehemently, from a little girl with her mouth full of food.

"He's real, isn't he??" the boy who first braved the question pleaded with me for some answers.

Now, what is a mom to do?  I'm already caught in my own web of lies at home about Santa, his magical appearance down a sooty tunnel, his ability to know everything, to present him so that he is all-knowing and not too creepy.  We sing songs, read books, try to dodge specific questions without too many logistical lies. I've found the less specific we are, the less lies we tell, the less likely we are to be caught in a story that doesn't compute in our 6-year-olds head.  All and all, we've decided that the lies outweigh the damage of deceiving our children. In other words, the dishonesty is worth the freedom to believe in pure magic.  At least that is the story we're going with.

I will admit I was a little irritated with this mom for toting Rudolph-isn't-real propaganda while still feeding the Santa shtick to her youngster but I tried to forgive her (perhaps she had been backed into a corner like I have been countless times, had to think on her feet, and impulsively came up with a non-Rudolph paradigm) and deal with the situation at hand.

I said to the little boy, "Well, what do you think?" but that started a flurry of argument among the group.

Finally I said this, "You know, I don't know the answer about Rudolph but I think it is fine for people to think different things.  So what matters is what you think about it."

He glared at the kill-joy across the table and muttered, "He's real.  He IS."

Meanwhile, there was another little girl with less severe issues.  She just needed more ketchup.

Which brings me to my next story.

A few weeks ago, I was on ketchup duty.  Red squirt bottle in hand I went from child to child painting smiling faces and hearts and stars on their trays to dip their french fries into.  I soon ran dry and went into the kitchen putting on a chipper, friendly face for the stern and serious lunch ladies. They pointed me in the direction of a pitcher full of ketchup.  By pitcher I mean one of those plastic ones that people make summer lemonade in, with the top that twists open or closed and can be removed by pulling up on it.

You see where I'm going with this?

There I was pouring the ketchup into my bottle, pitcher turned at a severe angle to get the thick sauce to pour.  And in the last second before disaster struck I thought, this doesn't seem like a very good set-up.

The next thing I knew the lid slide off and there was ketchup all over my hand and arm, the counter, the floor.  One of the more sober looking lunch ladies glared at me and said, "Well, I'm not your mother. I'm not cleaning it up." 

As if.

I ignored her, set to cleaning, more upset by the waste than by the mess.  Naturally all the other moms helped me because that is what moms do.  I began to make self-depreciating jokes with the lunch ladies ("Do you have anything else you'd like me to pour?" "Are there any job openings around here?") and now when they see me coming, they joke and tease me.

I'm not sure what this means exactly but it is kind of odd that the way into the cold, stone heart of a lunch lady is to make fun of yourself.  Maybe it gives them the upper hand somehow in addition to the ice cream scoop they wield to dish out mashed potato.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

edible architecture

 On Sunday The Smiths came over for a holiday meal and to make and dismantle gingerbread houses.  We did gingerbread houses with the girls once already and all I can say is those kids seriously want to eat the house once it's done.  In good conscience I cannot let them eat the year-old boxed gingerbread cutouts with rock hard candy.


Have Ange make you some gingerbread, fresh from the oven and impossibly delicious.  Decorate with "fresh" candy till the house caves in and you are left with no choice but to consume the rubble.

(And yes, Maya IS wearing 3 ponytails on her head.)
Here is a photographic catalog of such an event:

Oh, good golly. I love these children.

sisterly love

I regret to inform you (and my photo albums) that I failed to take any meaningful family pictures of Thanksgiving this year.  I blame it on the fact that I was helping get the meal on the table (and nursing my sad heart because Sandi was spending such a special day at work, away from us) AND trying to keep Maya's teeth away from my nephew Braeden's skin.  I failed.  Eight times.

There is a lot that I love about Thanksgiving.  I mean how can you not LOVE a holiday with its heart firmly grounded in the kitchen?  The bubbling pots on the stove, the smooth table clothes, the extra tables set up to accommodate the umpteen dishes there to make your palate feel like its on steroids...add to that kids running joyfully under foot (and sometimes with big fat tears because one had bitten the other- EIGHT TIMES), a true sense of family, a good old fashion dance party (my family has one nearly every time we get together now), and my sister's and my annual tradition:  THE MAKING OF THE POT PIES.

 We believe the tradition stems from Sandi's mom Patti and now we do it with a seriousness and fervor that might become irritating to others.  But can we help it if we watch how many scoops of mashed potato people take and glare a bit at them if they are impinging on the amount needed for the pies?

Every year Kathryn gets the pie crusts and I bring some pie plates.  She gets extra everything - stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, etc- and then after dinner, we set to work.  I am not ashamed to admit that I think is our favorite part of the day. We made 6 this year- two for her, two for us, and two to give away.  And I put puffed pastry on the top of mine this year which was delectable.

But pie making holds only a limited amount of fun (because it is fun, trust me).  The real fun is what is between my sister and I.

Allow me to back up for a moment. 

Everyone who has a sister they are close to they will get this.  My sister is one of the biggest gifts of my life.  Her presence in my life means that I survived the murky waters of our childhood,  that certain things about me make sense when she is around or on the other end of the phone, that there is someone who loves me in the most unconditional way I know- absent of judgement or expectation.  Four years older than me, my sister Kathryn was the moon and the stars when I was little.  I copied her hairstyle (god help us both), and bought the same EXACT long red sweatshirt dress (yes, sweatshirt), secured a belt around my waist and donned red pumps to match her (even though when she looked at me in disgust I said, "WHAT!  I certainly didn't copy you!"  while in reality I looked like her stunt double.)  I used to squint my eyes like hers when looking at things far away.  She actually needed glasses and I just wanted to be her.

When I was eleven she sat me down seriously and said:  "If you have any questions about sex ask me.  Don't ask mom.  She will just tell you not to do it."

After she moved out, an event that nearly destroyed me, she would come back and spend the night and we would curl into one bed and whisper and giggle late into the night.  Once, as we were punchy and tired, she said, "What time is it?" I answered, "3:16" (am) and she said, "What? No, I said I love you."  I heard her wrong but from then on we would say to each other, "I love you 3:16."

When I was seventeen I was very sick in the hospital having just been diagnosed with Type I diabetes (on New Year's Eve thank you very much) and my mother had gone out for supper and I lay in a pitch black hospital room feeling horrendous.  Suddenly the door cracked open and light poured into the darkness and all I could hear was my sister's tentative voice, "Suzanne?"  She had dropped everything and come to be with me and I knew then that everything would be okay.

Six years ago when Ella was born, Kathryn was by my side for nearly the entire 3 hours it took to push Ella out.  The only time she left was when the nurse made her go take a break, smelling salts and orange juice in hand, because she showed the classic signs of pre-fainting. The story goes that she then staggered down the hallway toward the waiting room and collapsed in a chair halfway, causing serious alarm in the rest of the family awaiting the baby news.

She has held my hand, cheered me on, boosted me up, reminded me of my own strengths and abilities when I failed to recall them and lent me hers when I couldn't find them.  She is my friend, my confidant, my fellow adventurer.  Three hours is never too far a drive to the beach, the kiddie rollar coaster will always be fun and laughing over our common humor will never tire.  She is the one I worry about, am proud of, would fight on her behalf.  She is my sister.

Or as Maya says, "She is my thister."

Lucky me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

sleeping arrangments among other things

Yesterday morning Ella informed me that she feels it is unfair that Mommy and I get to sleep together every night and that she has to sleep with Maya every night.

 I wasn't really sure where to go with that.

Tonight we were out for supper with the Carvers and I was speaking to Ella who wasn't paying attention.  Maya called across the table to her, "El, your mother is speaking to you!"

This past weekend we went to see our friends Katie and Alex's daughter 11-year-old daughter Mikayla in a play. Ella sort of hero worships Mikayla and she looked almost star struck the entire time sitting on Sandi's lap for a better view. I, however, was rummaging around in my bag trying to find snacks to occupy Maya who was draped over my head and all over my lap and whispering to the people behind us.  At one particularly quiet moment in the play she began, in a deep baratone, "DO A DEER!  A FEMALE DEER!"  Mercifully, because this song doesn't know a quick ending once it begins, the kids onstage began a musical number and Maya's VonTrapp rendition was muted.

It had me remembering back to being at Santa's Village this past summer and sitting in the completely quiet Tinkerdoodle Theater after the lights had gone down, waiting for the show to start.  Suddenly out of the silent darkness Maya yelled, for the packed theater to hear, "MOMMY AND MOMMA LOVE ME!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

merry merry

We made our annual trek out to Piper Mountain Christmas Tree farm to brave the wild back woods (actually well grooved paths flooded with like-minded tree hunters.)  I strive not to have duplicate posts on the blog but how can you not post pictures of two little girls dressed to the nines to go Christmas tree hunting??

Something very odd, and wonderful, has been happening lately.  The girls have been getting along.  Like in an "I adore you -  you are my sister" manner.  Shhh....don't tell anyone.  I'm terrified it will go away.

And somehow I never tire of taking this same picture of Sandi year after year playing lumber jack.

I believe "TIMBER!" was being shouted here.


Cozied in at home. 

Favorite holiday loves this year so far: warm lights aglow in the living room making everyday lighting unnecessary, holiday songs filling our house (and a reprieve from "Cuckoo"), Tricia and Brock's National Lampoon's Christmas vacation themed Christmas party complete with costumes,  donating Hannaford gift cards to an ICU family in need, hearing Maya yell through the house "YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!  YOU BETTER NOT CRY!", our 10th anniversary, the "magical" ornament Sandi concocted that hangs from the tree and mysteriously produces treats for the kids if they are being extra good to each other, watching Christmas movies and having Ella get some of the humor, Christmas books every night, candles in the windows (all 27), sharing the communal popcorn tin and voting for favorites (Carmel, butter or cheese), holiday cookie making, and the idea that at least for this month, it is more important to love than to fight.

Ella asked me the other night with big, fearful eyes if I though there was a chance she was on the naughty list.  As if.  Today she was asking me about how a toy she had was made.  I did my best to explain and then ended with, "there are people whose job it is to make toys." 

Pause.  "You mean  Elves?"

Favorite Christmas movie lines:

From "The Grinch" (said by the Grinch): "Solve world hunger.  Tell no one."
From "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (said by Clark Griswald): "How could things get any worse?  Take a look around you Ellen. We're on the threshold of hell!"
From "Elf" (said by Buddy the Elf): "You're not Santa.  You don't even smell like Santa.  You smell like meat and cheese.  You sit on a throne of lies."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

when it's all too much, and then you laugh

From time to time it happens that I wonder how I got myself into this mess called parenting.  How it is that I started spending my alone time combing the aisle of Walmart (damn you Target and my boycott!  I miss you!), unloading dishwashers, folding clothes and helping Maya change into her "big" dress 100 times a day because "it makes me happy!" ? When someone asks me if I've had a good day and I wonder if it is enough that I didn't burn the house down and no one ran into traffic.  Sometimes it feels like all the meaning and purpose is being chocked out of my life and I am wrestling to remember if life is more than having clean floors, serving a balanced super and not burning the checkbook (or is that supposed to be not burning supper and having a balanced checkbook?) Either way, you get the point.
When I get into this state I usually go to work or for a good run or Sandi comes home from a stretch of work and the world tips on its axis and I remember all that is good and joyful and lovely about being a mom.

But today, since those things hadn't happened and I was still existing in some unbalanced version of myself, I was going to have to settle for a good laugh.

The girls are on hiatus from "Annie" and on to "The Sound of Music."  I used to love that song "So Long, Farewell" about the absurd little bird popping out to say "cuckoo."  Now I want to rip the cd from the player and smash my coffee mug over it and chuck it out the window.  But alas, I could never do that...imagine the disappointment when I began to litter.

I need to start driving with my ipod again so I can catch a break from the grating sounds of Austrian boys and girls singing melodiously.

In the movie, when the Von Trapp children are introducing themselves, the second youngest says, "My name is Marta and I'm going to be seven on Tuesday."

Ella told me that Marta was older than Skyler. Once I figured out who Marta was (the Von Trapps don't take up as much cerebral space in my head as it does in hers), I asked her how she knew that.
"Because Skyler is six and Marta will be seven on Tuesday."

Today Skyler and Ella were talking in the backseat. 

Skyler:  "Ella, I was thinking about being in a play next year.  My friend Mikayla was in one and I thought, 'that would be fun to do when I am seven.'"

(In the front seat, I wonder if that will be Tuesday or when that will be.)

Ella: "What kind of play?  Do you have to stand on a stage?"
Skyler: (playing at heart strings) "They did Annie last year and this year I think they are doing the Sound of Music.  It's sort of a stage but the adults just stand around and eat snacks while they watch."
Ella: "Would there be kids I don't know?"
Skyler: (really trying) "Oh, mostly girls.  All girls in fact.  And probably only five. Yes, five girls."
Skyler:  "And my mom will pay for you to do it."

I nearly guffaw in the front seat wondering if Skyler will become a politician or a diplomat when she grows up.

Dear Santa

To: Santa
From: Ella

"Dear Santa,  I would like a beautiful dress and can it be short? I want a doll house please.  Also face make-up please.  And a glass pegasus figurine.  Thank you.  Love, Ella."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

those who sleep in our house sleep well

My friend Ange said to me the other day, "Are we the only people in the world whose 3 and 6-year-olds still get up in the night?"

Not very helpfully, I told her I think we are.

Ella has been increasingly scared to go to bed at night. I know this is all very developmentally appropriate but it is still heart wrenching and downright frustrating when you spend 30 minutes reading, soothing, relaxing and snuggling a child for slumber and then have them freak out the moment you go to leave the room.  The easier softer way?  Stay with them until they fall asleep.  Problematic?  You betcha.

The next easiest, hopefully less damaging, more manageable path we have been taking?

"You can come in our room in the night if you are scared."

Sure, no sweat.  Maybe once or twice a week such an event would occur and to have a snuggly warm body scooch in between her favorite people on earth and sigh with deep contentment was really pretty sweet. 

But now I think Ella sets an alarm so that she doesn't miss her nightly scamper across the hall.

Her entrance is more noticeable, her requests more demanding, her failure to bring her own pillow and be sent back for it more disruptive, the kicking and perpendicular position in the bed more maddening.

But can you imagine (or remember?) how comforting your parent's bed, especially with them asleep on either side of you would be??  It is this imagining that has me allowing it night after night.  Plus I want my sleep and this seems the best way to get it.

For her part, Maya can be persuaded not to wake at 4:30 or 5:00 AM if you lay in her bed with her.  I literally tell her to lay down, that it isn't time to go wak up yet and I think she must be too asleep for her will to set in because she DOES IT.  Lately she has been sleeping until 6:30 or 7 AM.  This makes for a better night and day for all involved.

But can you picture it?  Awakened at 2 AM for Ella's entrance and bedding down and then Maya's a mere 2 to 3 hours later?  And then to get myself dressed and settled in Maya's bed and get back to sleep... I think, what is this mad version of musical beds we've got going on here???

Sometimes when Ella comes in I just go right into Maya's bed so I don't have to be woken twice.  Good grief I'm so glad Sandi lobbied for the top of the line pillow top mattresses for the girls.  Maya and I may be squished on that twin but at least I'm comfy.  And there is something about a warm little body curled into your belly that is irreplaceable.

 I tell myself they won't be little like this forever...and if I don't sleep they won't live to get big enough to outgrow our bed or me theirs.

But then you come along this sight in the middle of the day and you can't help but burn with resentment.

6 going on 14

Belatedly...some pictures of Ella's actual birthday which started with a visit from Skyler and Belgian waffles (how can you not like ice cream for breakfast?).

After school (and a little cupcake celebration there) she came home to open some presents and have pizza and cake with some of her favorite people (the Smith's, of course).  She had asked for a "purse- pink with large flowers on it."  I found this Vera Bradly bag on clearance and thought it fit the bill.  Tricia saw it and said, "VERA BRADLY?!?!?!  I WANT THAT PURSE!" 

And around her neck, to celebrate the spirit of the beloved "Annie", we bought her a real silver locket with her name engraved on it.  She had picked out a super cheapo one at a mall store and she had asked for it for her birthday but we decided at six it was time for some real jewelry.  It has pictures of Mommy and Momma on one side and Ella and Maya on the other.  As a result, Maya runs around the house after her asking, "Can I see the family in your necklace???"

Cake time:  Brady trying to get Ella to smile, Maya just being a wacko.
Time for candles and a wish...
I wonder what you wish for when you turn six...
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