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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the intersection of baking and joy

For years now we have baked food for our neighbors at Christmas.  We would usually bake in the morning and deliver at night on a cold December evening, fighting the urge to just return home to the fire. 

Since then our world has expanded in every possible way.  Our neighborhood had an influx of younger people and families so further down our street we trudged, marking our new friendships with baskets, plates or tins of homemade food.  Our ties to friends became deep and intertwined and so we began to get in the car to deliver after we had braved the cold on foot. We had children and our world exploded.  I started bringing food to my friend Joann who I sublet massage space from and the people downstairs in the accounting firm.  They appreciated it so much I put them on the list for the next year. I have clients that bring me gifts and Christmas and so they, too, were on the list.

I started baking in November this year, by far my most organized operation to date.  I relied heavily on our basement freezer, early mornings, late nights and the occasional window of time one can throw a batch of cookies in the oven in the middle of the day.

Then it was time to assemble.

I made: heath bar, italian almond cookies, ginger snaps, orange and chocolate pinwheel cookies, peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses, dipped pretzels, espresso crinkle cookies, truffle iced sugar cookies, peanut butter cups, butterscotch bark and a chocolate lollipop for each of the kids. 

Emilie threw an adult-only cookie decorating party on Saturday (and wrote a great post about it ) so I put some of our fancy shmancy sugar cookies in there as well.

Twenty nine families in all!  And that was by no means everyone we wanted to include.

We took all day to do it.  I assembled in the morning and then Ella and I went to deliver them to all our neighbors.  It was a cold December day but with the sun this year rather than the dark.  Ella walked alongside me with her Christmas basket of chocolate lollipops for the kids and a giant smile across her face and I knew at once that she understood why this is so much fun for me. 

After lunch we all piled in the car and, listening to Christmas music all the way, we made our way in a four-leaf clover pattern all around the area, delivering tins of goodies.  I sat in the back with the kids much to their delight and amusement and my car sickness and we giggled all the way. Some houses we stopped for tea and a chat, others we ran in to give hugs and holiday greetings. 

I felt like Santa Claus.  If Santa had a streak of Betty Crocker and shopped at Old Navy.

I've decided that the bags under my eyes are a small price to pay for the immense joy this tradition brings me.  Short of the wonder of Christmas morning, the exuberance over Santa, this is my favorite part of Christmas:  love, sharing and baked goods. 

Here's to hoping not all 29 people reciprocate...

When we got home I took a breath, relieved not to be planning my next batch of dough and another round of dishes when I realized Ella volunteered for Christmas cookies for her holiday party. I started the dough to sit in the fridge to be cut out after school. 

Then Sandi said, "Hey, do we have any more heath bar?"

Monday, December 19, 2011


I've been talking to Maya a fair amount about the naughty and nice list.  I kind of had no choice.  She was SO naughty and belligerent at the end of Sandi's semester.  She went from tuning it out to pleading with me to tell her if Santa will bring her presents if she has been having a bought of naughtiness.

I'm not sure what she is worried about, actually, since she tells everyone who asks that she doesn't want anything from Santa anyway.  Perhaps she feels she is all set. Imagine that.

Yesterday, she was full of silliness.  She was playing with her mouth in the backseat of the car in her typical, self-stimulating way: tongue out, blowing raspberries in a rhythmic pattern.  As she watched her spittle shin in the sun she announced, "I have sparks coming out of my mouth!"

Her new line when she is about to perform a trick or a joke is, "Wait for it....wait for it...."

We went to a party Saturday night and our babysitter came over after the girls were asleep.  Around 11 Maya came downstairs to find Olivia in the living room.  Maya looked at her, didn't say a word, put her blanket over her head and spun around and went back up to bed.

Each year we do the Portable North Pole for the girls  If you have kids and haven't seen it, you should check it out.  You get to personalize a video message from Santa. Super cute.

Sandi did one each for the girls while they were in the tub last night.  They sat down to watch it, Ella first, as Santa told her he knew where she lives, how old she is, what she wants for Christmas and that he knows she has been working on being nicer to her sister this year.  Then the elves put her "file" into a machine and the lights either light up green or red depending on the if you are on the naughty list.  I'm telling you, they even insert some suspense in there.

Ella's, naturally, lite up green.  Then it was Maya's turn.

Santa went through the same things with her and said he knew she was working hard to pick up her toys.  Then her file went into the machine and, wait for it....BOTH lights lite up.  Red and green. I stood there in stunned amazement.  Then Santa announced that it was "too early to tell" and "there was still time to get on the nice list."

I decided in that moment that I had fallen love with Sandi all over again.  I also had to leave the room in a laughing fit.

Maya apparently was mostly unfazed and Ella tried to give her a pep talk, as only those secure in their position on the nice list can.

When I came back out Sandi whispered to me, "I don't know how that happened!"  She didn't mean to do it.  She thinks she forgot to check naughty or nice and so it placed Maya in some sort of Santa purgatory. 

We will have to an updated one in a few day.

Later that night she said to me, "Have you been naughty or nice today Momma?"  I told her nice. 
She replied, "Well, let me check my list."  And she did.

Friday, December 16, 2011

holiday party, preschool style

Maya had her holiday party at preschool yesterday and, just like when Ella went there, it is the cutest thing you ever saw.

They sing Rudolph, some lip syncing, other shouting, some with their arms folded pouting.  They have coffee can lids with bells attached and sing jingle bells.  They run all around the room, dragging you from place to place because it is so cool to have a parent stay at school.

Unfortunately, Sandi had her last final in Portland that afternoon so she couldn't come.  To ease this pain, she had been able to drop Maya off last week for school and the teachers had Sandi stay while they practiced their songs.  Naturally, I also video taped but it kind of just sucks to have to miss these bigger things in a child's life.

Maya and her friend Jackson:

The kids do a "finger play" which uses the hand to mimic the chimney and goes, "Close up the chimney, put on the top.  Open up the top and UP! Santa pops."  But Maya likes to say lid instead of top and it doesn't quite rhyme. 

Just like Ella, Maya made us a hand and footprint reindeer.  Now we have a 2008 and a 2011 one.  HOW CUTE.
For the party, I made these pretzel snowmen.  I even was the mom who let the four-year-old help instead of just doing it while she was in bed.  I swallowed my Type A neurosis and let the eyes be cockeyed and the buttons askew.  I am trying...

The really ridiculous part, though, was that I was talking with some moms at gymnastics and let them convince me to make snowbanks out of rice krispy treats to poke the pretzel rods into to hold them up.  This I did after the girls went to bed.   I drilled the proper diameter hole in the snowbanks, let it harden, dusted it with confectioner's sugar and voila!  It was a complete disaster.  The snowmen tipped precariously, the rice krispy bank was too shallow and couldn't hold them.  So I made a second batch with less holes and more structural integrity.  That bombed too.  Finally, at 11 PM, I rooted around my pantry and found this silver pitcher and called it good, wondering all the while who spends 2 hours making an edible presentation for preschool grade snowmen??
Snowbanks or not, they were a huge hit.
There was even an appearance from a special someone.  (Which is not the same as someone special as his red costume was not of the negligee variety.)

Maya simply adores her teachers, who were Ella's teachers, and we feel so blessed to have them.  I can't help but think they have a soft spot for her having had her toddle around their rooms just a few short years ago and crying wildly when I had to drag her out of there every drop off.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

a letter writing campaign

Rest assured, Ella might not believe in overnight polar flights but she does still believe in the big guy.

Here she is writing her letter to Santa:

She requests a sewing kit, a caterpillar kit (where you grow caterpillars into butterflies- can you see them in the Maine winter?) with magnifying glass and book, some high high high tops (converse boots that look like the sneakers) and a radio that goes anywhere.  There is a picture of the boot and a lot of "pleases" which pleased me.

Yes, our child asked for a boom box.

Hopefully Santa won't hold it against her that she doubted his messenger.

Maya dictated her letter to me.  In it she requested a pink baby doll (god help us- do you know how many baby dolls she has?), a sled (awesome idea) and her very own gum (remember she has an oral fixation). 

Meanwhile, the elves best get busy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

caught off guard

The other day I was catching up with a mom I've known peripherally over the years while we sat and watched our kids' swimming lessons.  Maya was sitting next to me on the bench.  The woman looked over at her and said, "She is so cute.  She looks just like your wife."

I swear I almost said "Who?"

I have never had anyone call Sandi that before.

Recently I have had people look at Maya and tell me, "She is so cute.  She looks just like you. You must be so proud."  As though I can take a single bit of credit for her adorableness.  It is the strangest feeling and I never know what to say (shock of all shocks) and so I usually just let "thank you" suffice.  I mean Maya is cute even if I had nothing to do with it.

And regarding being speechless, I had no idea how to respond when Maya said this to me this morning: "I want Mommy to be home. If Mommy is at home I can love you.  But I just cannot love you if she isn't.  I won't do it. I won't love you without Mommy."

I did the only thing I could do.  I called Sandi and tattled on her.

I'm pretty sure that Maya is just making me her punching bag for all of her frustrations regarding Sandi's absences, but I can tell you it is getting old.  Every limit I set, every thing I ask of her (teeth brushing, hair brushing, getting dressed, getting in the car-you know, all the unreasonable things parents ask of their children) she howls that she wants Sandi and fights me every step.  So yes, I tattle on her sometimes just so she can hear Sandi provide the united front. 

Translation:  it isn't Momma's fault that Mommy is gone.

I think I need a t-shirt that says that. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

blantant lies for the cause

 I confidently thought we would have two more years out of Ella regarding the Santa subterfuge.

After watching our nephew with his Elf  On The Shelf, we decided this would be a fun tradition. (For anyone who doesn't know EOTS it is an elf doll who is purported to fly to the North Pole every night, ala Christmas magic, and report to Santa about children's behavior.  Each night he returns to a different location and part of the fun is finding him each morning.  Children are allowed to talk to the elf but he is under strict orders not to respond and if they are not to touch him lest he lose his magic.)

Ella was beyond excited when they opened an early present Santa had left by the fire overnight.  They quickly named their elf Jingles and he found a perch up high on a curtain rod. I think Ella was as pleased that Santa would get reports of her stellar behavior as well as Maya's occasional naughtiness.

We were heading upstairs to get dressed and she started asking. 

"Mom, is it really you that moves the elf every night?"
"It's Christmas Spirit,"  I answered.
"Yeah, but is it really you?  Tell me, I want to know."

GULP.  Double gulp. I was ahead of her on the stairs, infinitely grateful my face wouldn't belie the heavy internal conflict I was feeling.

Lie outright to your child in the name of preserving another year or two of magic?  Or go with honesty, confess to chopping down the cherry tree, and rip your child's magical Christmas moments out from under her before breakfast on a school day with no warning whatsoever.

Let me just say right about now I've kinda got a resentment against this 8 inch high elf perched haughtily up on our speaker shelf.  I'm sort of wishing we never invited him in.

I've had issues with the lying over the years.  Many, many people have recounted to me their amazing childhood Christmas's and said they were glad their parent's lied about it and they never felt betrayed when they found out the truth.

So I replied, "As far as I know, it is Christmas Spirit that moves the elf."

She let out a big breath in a rush, "Oh PHEW!  Okay, I believe you.  So how can he see us when we are upstairs or at school?  I wonder what he will tell Santa about Maya.  Does he really go back to the North Pole after Christmas or does he go in the basement with all the other Christmas decorations?" And the questions began.

I came downstairs, away from 'ol canine ears, and pulled Sandi aside.  She was as conflicted as I and added a new dilemma to the quandary.  What if Ella goes to school and tells the kids about the elf and some mean, Santa stomping kid says, "That is just a doll you buy at the store. There is no Santa."  How would we pick up the pieces to that specific heartbreak?

But this is the risk we run at her age.  My niece, at age 8 last year, was still a firm believer.  I don't know if we have one more year from our super sensitive, innocent girl but shouldn't we at least try?

Ella was telling her babysitter Kassidy about the elf last night.  This is what she said, "He flies to the North Pole every night to see Santa and then he comes back and sits somewhere different.  It's good he can fly because it would be really hard for him to walk since his hands and legs are sewn together."

They are too. Take a look:

I thought this was the end of it. Then today she asked me again if I moved it.  Sandi had so I told her, honestly, I had not.  She was not convinced and was near tears asking over and over through the morning.  Finally, we decided we had to tell her. 

Sandi told her that, in fact SHE had moved the elf the night before and that I told her I hadn't because I hadn't.  Ella cried.  Hard.

She told us that she knew he kept track for Santa (she even said, "I still believe in Santa") but that it didn't make sense to her that he could fly every night.   At one point I asked her if she would rather we hadn't told her the truth.  She answered, "I'm glad you told me the truth. But I wanted to believe it.  I just wish that it was true. I don't like that the truth is that you move it." And she grieved all day long.  On and off tears she couldn't explain but I knew the cause. 

I feel like her childhood is slipping like sand between my fingers.

At least for now she still believes in the magic ornament that has candy inside it when Santa sees they are being good...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

elf yourself!

Last night we went to Tricia and Brock's third annual Christmas party.

Each year the party is based on a Christmas movie. In years past it has been The Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. This year it was our personal favorite: Elf.

Now, if you've never seen Elf some of these pictures will be lost on you.  However you should be able to feel the level of dedication to the costume tradition and the fun had by the movie-based trivia game.

To summarize for the Elf uninitiated:  Elf is a movie about Buddy the Elf (the hilarious Will Ferrell) , who has been raised by Elves only to find out at age 30 that he is a human.  He takes his elf upbringing and childlike spirit to New York City in search of his father, a workaholic man who isn't very nice and happens to be on the Naughty List. Hysterics ensue.

Our hosts:

This was the first year Kristi and Michael made it up from Beals Island to attend.
The whole gang:

There is a scene where Buddy, who is 6 '3", sits on Papa Elf''s (his adopted Elf father) lap. 

Sandi went as an Elf and I went as a gift "For Someone Special."  Buddy in all his childlike innocence buys his father a negligee in a department store simply because the display says it is for someone special.  So yes, I dressed in a negligee.

The trivia game is a very serious undertaking.  Trish asks the questions and Brock is the official judge and score keeper, utilizing a loose association of fairness as his guide.  There was even a final question, jeopardy style, with wagering and everything.  This year's game included dancing, making up stories, reciting lines from the movie verbatim or simply answering questions about movie specifics that varied in three levels of difficulty. 

There was a lot of thinking going on.

And conferring over answers.  (Yes there were two nuns at the party.)

Here is where I will say that our team won the game.  Sandi and I had made flash cards and quizzed each other all week.  We knew how many cookies Buddy had put in the VCR (11), at what age Papa Elf made master tinker (490) and how many etch-a-sketches Buddy was off pace when making toys in Santa's workshop (915 for the day).  What can I say?  We are slightly competitive.

Trish was dressed as Leon, the North Pole snowman.

Trish, sitting next to her first completed puzzle- "electric sex" from The Christmas Story.

I tried flying solo on the cake making.  Let me just say I learned a lot.  I worked on it for 7 hours (all while the kids were gone or asleep) and it was so fun for me, bumps under the fondant and excessive butter cream in the layers and all.

The three sisters and their husband, fiance and partner.  This picture makes me feel so fortunate for such love
and fun in our lives.

There are 4 food groups for Elves: candy, candy corns, candy canes and syrup.  There is a scene from the movie where Buddy makes breakfast for his family which consists of pasta and maple syrup.  On his own he puts marshmallows and crushed pop tarts as well.  We were sent home with goody bags with pasta (ours was whole wheat), syrup, pop tarts, candy corn, candy canes and, our favorite, the 2011 mix of Christmas music.  Trish and Brock know how to throw a party!!  It makes me so sad that we have to wait until next year to do it all again!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

living under interrogation

I'm not sure what is up with Ella lately but she has developed a new level of need to know. 

She questions me about EVERYTHING.

This is the way a typical car ride with her can sound:

"When are we going to get there?"
"Who else will be there?"
"Will they get their before us or after us?"
"Are there any other birthday parties this month?"
"What are we having for supper?"
"What are we doing next weekend?"
"Where are the people in front of us going?"
"Who were you talking to on your phone?  What did you mean when you said you would see her later?  Who?  Who are you going to see and when?"

Every question when we are putting her to bed is, "What are we doing tomorrow?"  When I pick her up from school, before she can tell me anything about her day, she asks, "What are we doing now?"

I feel like I'm living under CIA surveillence.  All my privacy is gone. I put a piece of gum in my mouth and in an instant hear, "What are you eating?" from the back seat.

I think we need a personal consult from Thich Nhat Hahn, the buddist monk who teaches about living in the moment.

Part of this is certainly my fault. I am a need to knower myself.  I like to know what is coming.  I like to know a timeline and a general plan.  I can't help myself. I formulate plans in my head constantly for the best way to undertake a day or a list of errands. 

Some would call it neurotic.  I call it efficient.

As much as I downplay the role of biology in who someone is, every now and then the understanding hits me with the subtly of a baseball bat to the head.

There are so many ways that Ella is like me. She gets stomach aches, has soft teeth prone to cavities, she gets car sick, has a penchant for chocolate, has a hard time with transition and cries easily when something comes to an end, she has a sweet tooth and is deeply sensitive about what other people do and say to her.  (The later three I've trained out of myself and I can only hope the same for her.) 

On the other hand, Maya has the physicality and inherent athleticism of Sandi. She has her fierce independent streak and her willful determination.  Maya likes to do every last thing "by her own" and will cry before she will ask anyone for help. She has Sandi's sensitive skin, her piercing blue eyes and her narrow hips. 

To even out the overload of genetics from one mom, Sandi and I choose donors for the girls' who were like their non-biological mom.  Ella's donor was a male version of Sandi and Maya's a male version of me.  Interestingly enough, the girls have the exact temperaments of their non-biological mom.  Ella is introverted and quiet like Sandi, feels things deeply and doesn't want any attention on her.  Maya is wildly extroverted, loves to be the center of attention and thrives in social situations.  Sound like anyone? 

Temperaments aside though, the inherent quirks of our girls still reflect the mom in whose belly they grew from the size of  lentil to a bona fide human being.

But back to Ella's future in counter intelligence.... if I can get past the intense irritation her questioning provokes in me, I might see that she is very anxious and is seeking some control.  I'm searching for ways to help her with this but I am not entirely sure what is helpful.

One of the things I strive to do as a parent is adopt a non-emotional, breezy attitude to their chaos so that I am not wrapped up in their emotional storms.  I am successful at this about 5% of the time.  When they yell at each other I would ideally not yell at them to stop yelling. When Ella asks what is for supper and is displeased with the answer, I would ignore her complaining rather than lecture her about the kids who don't have food. I would not feel pressure to have a plan for Ella every time she needs one and when she is unhappy with that I would shrug and let it go instead of telling her that my job is not to be her cruise director. 

Perhaps instead of aggravation she needs to hear:  "It seems as though you are nervous about this situation and want to know more about it.  I will tell you what I know.  Other than that I guess you will have to wait and see."

Easier said then done when that is followed by, "Why don't you know more?  Didn't you ask?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Piper Mountain 2011

It is that time of year again!

Time for the annual trek to Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm to hunt down the perfect tree, chop it was an ax (okay, a buck saw), enjoy some hot apple cider and donuts and do some ornament shopping.

We have been making this trip since before the girls were born and we have never missed a year.  Rain, snow, mud we always show up there to personally select our tree.  The girls adore it.

Instead of the usual horse drawn hay ride, this year we got on a 2 horse open sleigh (with wheels).

The girls had to do some tromping. Maya had on two different boots for the lumberjacking occasion.

Their favorite part besides the donuts?  Yelling "TIMBER!"

It took a lot of cajoling last year to get Ella to put her head through the tree.  This year she flat out refused which meant I had to do it with Maya.

I would imagine Ella is a fair amount colder with the cold air flooding into that gap in her mouth.

Better than cutting the tree, though, is decorating it.  Ever since the girls were babies we have been saving ornaments for them.  They were each given a bunch their first Christmas and ever since we let them each pick out one every year at Piper Mountain.  Each girl has a box with her ornaments in it (Ella having 3 more years worth than Maya).  We label the ones we can  with the year and keep them in their designated boxes.

The tree is decorated in a haphazard, bunched up sort of way with a heavy ornament concentration on the bottom. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I asked Ella if she knew why we did this. She said, "because you love us?" I said, "Well, yes. But also so that when you grow up and have a tree of your own you will have all kinds of ornaments to put on it."

And then I went and cried my head off.

Christmas tree up! Holiday baking and freezing begun!  Christmas parties to attend!  Music filling the house and lights strung all over our kitchen and living room you don't even need the overheads!  Hello Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Maya Moo, Maya Papaya, Captain Crazy Pants

When you are looking for a good candidate to run a small nation you might hope for tenacity, intelligence, determination and a strong sense of purpose.

If you are looking for a well-behaved four-year-old, you likely are hoping against these characteristics.

Maya is like a little mini-tyrant these days.  She snarls and growls.  She spits and kicks and hits.  She yells, "I don't like you anymore!" and "You are mean to me! You hurt my feelings!" when you try to save her from moving cars in a parking lot.

My mantra is, "I want to raise an independent, motivated, strong girl.  These are traits to be celebrated."

Which is all well and good until you would rather shave your legs with tweezers than resolve yet another conflict.

This morning she went upstairs with me to get dressed.  She wanted to do it herself.  Fine.  So what if she wears polka dot tights, a teal floral skirt, a white shirt with a colorful reindeer, a velvet half shirt and brown cloth boots to school? 

In the process of exercising her independence, she put her tights on backwards so that the heel was facing forward on the fold in her foot.  She howled.  I offered to help.  "I want to do it by my own!" she screamed.   "GET AWAY!"

She cried some more.  Skyler and Ella dared to enter the room where she was standing there half naked and she bellowed at them: "Get out!  I don't want you in here when I'm getting dressed!" Then in the next breath, "Why am in here alone?!  Why won't anyone help me?? I can't do this!"

I'm telling you.

After the dressing debacle I was searching on her head board for a toy of Ella's she had taken.  I found it along with my favorite necklace and earrings and several hair pins.  Last night I found a stack of stuff she is hiding behind the claw foot bath tub in the bathroom.

Maya also has mouth issues.  As in her mouth needs constant stimulation, either by talking, contorting it into faces or putting things in it.  She has taken a shine to gum chewing and asks for it every time she gets in the car.  I have to try to reason with her (yeah, right) to ration the two pieces per day I have decided are reasonable so they aren't all gone by 10 am.  When her gum runs out she cries from the back seat, "But my mouth is hungry!"

So are you getting this picture?  We have a sneaky, self-willed,  furious, 3 foot high hoarder with an oral fixation among us.

It's a good thing she is so damn cute, is entirely, ridiculously hilarious and just when she pushes you to the edge and you would willingly jump off, she wraps herself around you and says, "I just love you so much."

 It makes it all worth it.  I think.
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