Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear 2010, I'm not quite ready for you....

I'm starting the new year with minimal goals. Finish eating the treats we still have around here from Christmas. Send out a couple of holiday cards (some years they become Valentines; most years I don't send any). Put a new header on the blog. Hang up my new calendar (my husband reminded me of that one).

After that, I'll spend the weekend thinking about longer-term goals. I don't want to rush into anything.

But speaking of calendars, some will remember that I won a naughty calendar giveaway from Eva at Wrestling With Retirement. As she explains here, the calendar is a fundraiser featuring men from York, Maine. By popular request, here is Mr. January.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Strawberry Limoncello Martini


Here, in my husband's own words and in plenty of time for New Year celebrations, is his recipe for the world's most lovely martini. Olive Garden dips the edge of the glass into lemon juice and then into coarse sugar. This recipe skips that step, but I recommend you do the lemon juice-sugar thing.

***

BLissed-Out Grandma (BLOG) and I don't drink much alcohol. Until recently we rarely drank at home. We only occasionally order a drink when we go out to dinner. When we do order a drink, BLOG usually drinks only half of hers. So I was really surprised when she asked me to figure out the recipe for Olive Garden's Strawberry Limoncello Martini.

I searched the web. The one source I found that looked like inside information was very specific as to brands for the alcohol. I repeat their information here, but I don't know if brands really matter. The other information in the web recipe was incomprehensible, and some of the products were not available anywhere. So I assembled some lemon and strawberry flavorings and we began the taste tests. Here is the resulting recipe. Yield is 2 ample drinks.

4 oz. water
2 oz. Smirnoff Citrus Vodka
2 oz. Caravella (?) Limoncello
2 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
1 oz. strawberry daquiri mix
1 Tbsp. sugar (BLOG says this is too much, but Olive Garden puts sugar on the rim of the glass and I don't. I think the resulting sweetness is equal -- but you be the judge.)
2 tsp. Real Lemon lemon juice concentrate
3 or 4 fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup ice cubes

Put everything in a blender and blend FOREVER. Then blend a little longer. You want it to be REALLY SMOOTH. Use a ladle to skim off the foam. Serve with a couple of fresh or frozen strawberries in the glass.

So much for not drinking at home. I now make a batch of these almost every Friday and Saturday.

Enjoy. BLissed-Out Grandma does.

***

Yes, I definitely do! As Peter says, we adjusted the ingredients a bit, and you may want to as well....sweeter? more lemony? more strawberry-y? We'll be curious to know what you think!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A noisy Christmas!

Christmas Day was wonderful....Peter and I spending a quiet morning, then him cooking and us getting ready for the kids, who arrived mid-afternoon....

There were lots of wonderful presents, but the ones I photographed with the new video camera were...DRUMS. We have new bongo drums for Vi and a new tomtom for Augie...which just happens to fit onto "Pa's" sparkly red drum kit. They've been drumming on everything in the house (okay, no glass or pottery or people) for a long time now, so the noise is nothing new. And they both love drumming.

video

Addendum: Yes, they both spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in their jammies. Augie occasionally insists on this. With all the excitement involved in the Big Holidays, I think it's great that they can feel comfortable this way!

Christmas eve

videoGrandma got a new video camera for Christmas, and she opened it early to use it for the holiday. The viewfinder flips forward so the kids can see themselves...a great feature since they love to watch themselves! Christmas Eve was a very casual get-together with the kids. Our plans to order Chinese food fell through (the restaurant was closed) so Abby made some wonderful chicken dumpling soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. We were so much luckier than all the folks who couldn't be with family because of the snow!

Still working on video from Christmas Day...more complicated than I expected!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A heartfelt musical greeting

I just realized what I want to give my blog friends for Christmas....

Here is a rendition of O Holy Night performed on the show Studio 60 on Sunset Strip a couple of years ago, featuring dislocated New Orleans musicians. I hope the music moves you as much as it does my husband and me. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas favorites, part 3

Several of our ornaments are really old, including the foursome seen here. The Father Christmas figure was on Peter's great-grandmother's tree back at the turn of the century (1900, not 2000). He found an identical one in an old farmhouse he was cleaning out years ago, so we have two of them. The little house was on his parents' tree, as were the two glass ornaments. My parents had many of the striped orbs, too, so the few we have are meaningful to me as well.

The elaborately antlered reindeer in baseball togs is a new acquisition in honor of Blitzen and of our great passion for minor-league baseball (specifically, the St. Paul Saints). Behind this guy is a satin-trimmed styrofoam ornament I made when I was about 13. My mom got the idea (and the pattern for the six satin segments) from Good Housekeeping, which she and I studied every year for new decorations and recipes. Several of my siblings made ornaments; I have three that I made, and I'm still very fond of them.

The up side of insomnia...

I probably shouldn't have spent all day eating nothing but pecan brittle...but it was so good, and I didn't feel like going out to forage for lunch, and besides I was being polite because it was a homemade gift from my new boss.

And at the end of the day, I shouldn't have gone to bed without finishing my gift-wrapping project, telling myself I'd finish in the morning. Those and whatever unknown factors might be at work have me up in the middle of the night, drinking peppermint tea and finishing the wrapping project. And now I'm showing it to you.

Last year our son-in-law's mom sent them some reusable fabric bags. We loved them, loved the whole idea. I ran out and bought tons of fabric (I'm good at buying tons of fabric) and then forgot about it until Thanksgiving. So I haven't made nearly as many as I wanted to, but some is better than none.

Not only are reusable bags environmentally friendly (assuming they will be used for years) but they can handle really awkward packages. In this case, a bottle of champagne, a large can of Poppycock, and some chocolate. Because of the standing items, I even made these in the shape of a grocery bag, with four sides and a bottom. I gave each bag a built-in tie; I turned the upper edge inside and ran two lines of stitching as a channel for the yarn. The overall effect is a bit lumpy, but I didn't have to (a) wrap each item separately or (b) buy paper gift bags. The rest of the bags I'm making are flat, so they go together much faster than the one you see here.

Now if only I could get a few hours of sleep before I go to work....

Monday, December 21, 2009

The tree is decorated...

...I've taken a few pictures, I finished shopping, and now I just have wrapping... which is more complicated than it sounds, but more about that another day.

Meanwhile, the lovely Monique-aka-Surferwife23 has given me an award. It comes with tasks--tell 10 things that make me happy and then pass it on to 10 others. I'm gonna do the first part today, so here goes:

Ten Things That Make Me Happy (and I'm not going to count the grandkids; that seems too easy):

1. Getting my first blog award--thanks, Surferwife!

2. Strawberry limoncello martinis. Olive Garden makes 'em, and now so does my husband. I'll post his recipe some day soon.

3. All by itself, limoncello Italian liqueur is nice, too. I'm sipping it right now.

4. Joni Mitchell's "I Wish I had a River"--it's so wonderfully melancholy. The first time I heard it, it was being sung by the Robert Downey Jr. character on Ally McBeal (the first hint that he was going to leave her, if I remember right). I actually had a little crush on that character. Sigh.

5. The smell of sugared almonds that fills one of the malls here at Christmas, and the taste of them when we bring home a couple of jumbo bags.

6. The fact that our daughter Abby dropped off a sample of her own home-made sugared almonds this morning, on her way to work.

7. Pioneer Woman. Her approach to cooking is encouraging and fun, her cookbook is a best-seller, her posts from the book tour showed how much she loves people, and her romantic stories about Marlboro Man and their kids are heartwarming. I used to think she was the Martha Stewart of the west, but if she turns out to be the next Oprah, you heard it here first.

8. With our grandkids, riding the carousel that we saved, and which we operate at Como Park in St. Paul. I'll tell that story some day.

9. Knowing that the book we coauthored with longtime baseball man Wayne Terwilliger is a good piece of work, that it's in the Library of Congress, and that it's still available on Amazon. That's another story I haven't told here.

10. Working only half-time and, truth be told, looking forward to retirement. There is so much I want to do outside of work, and I think it's coming within view.

So that's my list...as soon as I post I'll think of 10 more things, I'm sure. I still have to pass along the award, but I'm saving that for another day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yo, Yo-yo Ma, Ma Man!

We use YouTube to expose the grandbabies to different kinds of music. It all started when we were reading The Hungry Caterpillar to Augie five times in a row every day. (Us: "The end." Augie: "Again?") At some point we livened up the list of Saturday foods (pictured) by asking "Do You Want a Pickle" and singing Arlo Guthrie's old Motorcycle Song. And then the Chordettes' Lollipop. As you can see, they are relevant to the story.

It snowballed from there. Via YouTube, we've watched opera, jazz, rock, endless productions of kids' songs ranging from inane to wonderful, and, of course, tons of Sesame Street. We limit our viewing to 30 minutes or less, and we always try to talk about what we're seeing and hearing. It's as delightful for Pa and me as for the children here at Wild Rumpus Daycare for Grandkids Only.

This week we discovered a whole set of Yo-Yo Ma appearances. This one is a particular favorite. The man can make his mellow cello sound a whole lot like a saxophone playing the blues...surely one of the greatest sounds in the world. And today we found this version of Mockingbird with Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin, and a couple of others. That leads to a whole set of fabulous McFerrin performances. There are a couple that I'd heard often on public radio, but it's so much more powerful to see him making his one-man-orchestra sounds. Look up his Wizard of Oz, for example. I'm not embedding any more links; you're on your own. What a great time to be alive.

Target misses the mark

I love Target. The first-ever Target store was a mile from my house (it's been replaced by a SuperTarget). Their headquarters are still local, their policies are a little more progressive than other big-box stores, and returning stuff is easy so it's a good place to buy gifts for people you don't know well (such as the families for whom I shop each year). Oh, and the merchandise is pretty good, especially when you don't need top-of-the-line, which covers a lot of ground.

So why are they messing with our beautiful friendship?

Their Black Friday ads were hideous...you may recall the manic Christmas shopper woman pulling weighted carts uphill to train for the weekend's shopping. She was also decorating and baking in what was supposed to be a sendup of holiday excess, but was totally joyless. At best, I have to think people felt a little revulsion at the thought of running into other shoppers like the one featured in the ads. At worst, is that how Target sees me, its potential customer, er, guest?

The nastiness has continued. All of their holiday ads are featuring people in conflict or frustration. Probably the mildest is the family where the dad is trying to hook up the camcorder to the TV and the kids are saying, "No, it's not working yet" although we know it is--because we see that they are focusing the video camera on dad's butt. The whole family is snickering while he struggles. Okay, we've all been there, and maybe he'll laugh when he turns around and finds out they've been yanking his chain. But WHAT IS THIS AD SELLING? As I recall, it never mentions the video cam; it talks about family fun in general. This fun is a little skewed, and it doesn't inspire me to buy a big-ticket item so I can make fun of...whomever.

In another example, kids are opening presents from Santa. The dad whispers to the Mom (paraphrasing here), I thought we agreed not to spend so much. Mom says it didn't cost all that much. Pretty soon they're talking out loud and the kids can hear, so he says something like Santa must have forgotten about his budget. Mom, very tense, says icily, Maybe Santa doesn't need any help doing his job. And it's left there, the kind of grit-your-teeth resentment that has ruined (or threatened) at least one of your holidays, no?

Until recently, Target had some of the best advertising around....it always supported their brand, their focus on design, the huge variety of both useful and decorative stuff, and the straightforward pricing. They didn't show the logo until the very end, but you always knew within about 10 seconds that it was Target. And they did clever things that were fun to watch.

Whoever came up with this nasty new campaign is way off the mark. Whoever approved it should have greater consideration for the tone they bring into people's homes with their advertising, and for the intelligence of their customers.

Unfortunately, some research has shown that irritating people can cause them to be more aware of you. It will be interesting to see whether the advertising has worked as Target hopes...whether December sales do well compared with last year and compared with other retailers.

I'm not exactly boycotting, but I'm spending less there this year. And I'm disappointed in them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vi discovers Vi

I am delighted to report that Vi is developing an appropriately positive awareness of herself. I'm pretty sure nobody else worried about this, but I can explain. You see, until just the last couple of weeks, she didn't care much about seeing her own image, either in pictures or in the mirror. Ask her who she saw and she'd say "Augie," or "Augie and Grandma," as if she was invisible to herself.

This tapped into a deep-seated old issue of mine. I have had a couple of bosses who paid precious little attention to my ideas and recommendations... and who even attributed some of my best proposals to someone else. Being underappreciated translated into feeling invisible. One night I had a vivid dream in which my portrait was being unveiled high on a wall in a very visible spot--only the face in the portrait was someone else. The trauma (and the truth) of that dream stayed with me a long time. Seeing Vi overlook her own reflection made me nervous. But no more.

She has discovered the joy of watching herself dance in the mirror, something her brother perfected at an early age. And she loves to see herself in photos--especially in the display on the back of the camera. This, of course, causes a new problem: Miss Vi, if you constantly walk out of the frame and demand to see the back of the camera, I can't take your picture. I'll keep working on it, though, because this grandma isn't having any little granddaughter grow up to be invisible!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Here come the jokes, folks!

Augie was sitting on the potty chair, drumming on a step-stool with his fingers. I said, "Can you make a tiny noise, to wake a sleeping bee?"

(Background: In The Whispering Rabbit, a bee has flown into a rabbit's throat and fallen asleep. A groundhog tells the rabbit that he must make a very LITTLE noise to wake the bee, because a bee is not interested in big noises. He makes the click of a bee swallowing nectar hundreds of miles away. It works; the bee wakes up and flies away.)

Augie, who is not much interested in little noises and who loves to wake his sister Vi, said with a big grin, "I make a medium-size noise to wake a Sleeping V."

Wow, I said, that's a great joke. So he repeated it 15 or 20 times and I laughed each time. Once he was off the potty and dressed again, I said let's go upstairs and wake up Pa, who was taking advantage of naptime. Augie, again: "Here come Sleeping A and Sleeping G to see Sleeping P."

Half an hour later, Daddy arrived to pick them up. "Driving D is here," Augie said. I have a feeling this is going to continue for a while. He's figuring out in his head, this word starts with this letter... and then working it into his new game. Should he be able to do this at 33 months? I dunno, but I sure love it. And him.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The calendar has arrived!

A nudie calendar arrived in yesterday's mail. It's one of those fund-raising projects, this time featuring men who live and work in York, Maine.

I won this calendar from Eva of Wrestling With Retirement, in her first-ever giveaway. This link will take you to her post that tells you about it and how to order one for yourself. Meanwhile, eat your heart out.

Christmas favorites, part 2

Shortly before she died almost 30 years ago (and I still miss her) my mother embroidered ornaments for me and my siblings. I have about a dozen including this poinsettia, two Christmas trees, a star, an angel, a wreath, and others. Of course I carefully distribute them around the tree, interspersed with other handmade ornaments--things I made as a kid, things Peter and Abby made, and quite a few Santas needlepointed by Peter's mother, who died last March.

In this photo from a couple of years ago (our tree will go up next week), we see a beautiful blown-glass orb that was a wedding gift, a clever Santa suit that we bought on a trip, a dainty bird-in-a-nest that is sort of outdoorsy and sort of Victorian, and a regal reindeer.

Both the kids' tree and ours have several reindeer. It seems that every year beginning when Abby was very young, Blitzen has left her a Christmas letter and a gift of a reindeer that he fancies looks like himself. His letters have offered advice and encouragement through all of her life changes, but apparently he also can be a little full of himself, or so I'm told. Anyway, once in a while Peter and I spot a really special, audacious reindeer that we add to our tree as a kind of tribute to good old Blitzen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Memories...on someone else's tree!

Yesterday Connie, of Far Side of Fifty, posted a photo of a nice old ornament she'd found at an antique shop. The ornament featured Schumachers New Prague Hotel--which I recognized at once. It's where Peter and I spent the first night of our honeymoon just over 24 years ago.

That's us in the photo, with my lovely stepdaughter Abby, minutes after we were married in the living room of my best friends. If we look like we're in shock...we were. We met April 15, he asked me to marry him June 14, and we were married September 27. I've taken longer to pick out shoes. We were very practical about the whole thing. Couldn't take time off for a big honeymoon, so we headed for a two-day tour of southern Minnesota. (I went back to work on Monday and was still shaken. My employees threw me a little party and sent me home, where I spent a couple of days practicing the word "h-h-husband.")

In her post about the ornament, Connie provided some background on Schumachers, a historic small hotel with a wonderful restaurant. The restaurant featured Czech and German dishes prepared by the owner and fabulous chef John Schumacher. We had really enjoyed the food, and we went back for lunch or dinner several times before the hotel and restaurant closed in 2005.

But surprise...Connie's post said Schumachers had reopened. A quick Google search confirmed that the restaurant is back in business and the hotel has been remodeled (the twelve fairly small rooms are now six suites). The food will still include some European specialties but it will be lighter, a bit less expensive, and not designed to require a three-hour dining extravaganza--all good things, I'd say. Now that I know, I can't wait to get back there. And with our 25th anniversary coming up this year, we may need to check out the accommodations.

I'm so glad Connie decided to write about that ornament and that I was reading her blog! How about you...have you made a cool discovery while blogging?

P.S. Connie sent us the ornament and it now hangs on our Christmas tree every year! Thanks so much, Connie. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas favorites

Our ornaments are like a blended family...his, hers, and ours. Shortly before I "married them," Peter and Abby had one Christmas where money was tight and they spent time making gifts and ornaments. (She told him it was the best Christmas ever, because of the time they spent together.) This lace-ribbon star is one of their projects, and it's always in a place of honor on the tree. (Warning to Abby: spoiler ahead.) We can't remember who originally owned the little set of cooking utensils shown in this picture, but given Augie's and Abby's interest in baking, I have a hunch it will migrate to their tree soon.

Snow on the briar patch

I love this image in its vertical format, so I'm posting it. But would it surprise you to know there is an Augie-related story? Of course not.

He loves some of the old Golden Books, including Little Cottontail. Mother rabbit is preparing her baby to survive outside the nest. The final lesson involves learning to escape the fox by running in circles, stopping short and hopping to the side, and staying perfectly still while the fox runs straight into the briar patch.

These barberry shrubs have thorns, so Pa started calling them the briar patch. Augie learned that when the ball goes in there, you can't just reach in and grab it--you'll get a paw full of thorns just like the fox!

Always teaching, learning, making connections, helping little brains develop new synapses.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Around and around....

Yesterday we took the kids to a mall to ride a carousel, since ours is closed for the season.

This mall carousel is smallish and made of fiberglass and has only recorded music, but Augie enjoyed it anyway. Vi not so much--maybe just because it is unfamiliar. Peter didn't like it, either, because the tight radius produces motion sickness much more quickly than a big machine. Still, it was a good outing. The kids got to ride, explore a new place, and run around--and they both took good naps afterwards.

Santa's younger brother

Every year at this time, Peter lets his hair and beard grow and dons a Santa hat I made for him years ago (with a bell in the tip to add to the merriment). He wears his favorite red cardigan and gets smiles wherever he goes.

Kids, parents, sales people, check-out cashiers, other shoppers...everybody is more friendly when he is wearing this hat than when he is, as he says, "just another fat guy in a red sweater." His favorite exchange was with a tough-looking young black man who suddenly lit up with a big smile and said, "Merry Christmas, dude." If someone asks, "Are you Santa Claus," he answers, "I'm his good-looking younger brother."

Yesterday we took the kids to a mall. A woman started chatting him up, asking has he been busy and how many kids have come through. She thought he was the mall's Santa arriving to pose for pictures. I guess if his regular work ever falls through....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh, Do You Know the Muffin Man...

A few months past his second birthday, Augie got interested in baking. It was make-believe at first. It began when he stuck a wooden drumstick into the narrow neck of an old crockery milk jug and jiggled it around...part of his process of trying the drumsticks on every surface to test the sound. One day I heard him say, "stir the cake." Apparently the sound reminded him of his mom baking, something she had begun to do a lot. Soon he was assembling a cooking area with a pretend oven (the space beneath an end table), a cookie sheet (the Duplos base), bowls and measuring cups (stacking cups and other found objects), and cupcakes (small tins of cat food).

At home, he started helping Mommy bake. Then they found a couple of kids' picture-cookbooks so he could make things "all by myself." Before long, Grandma Anita sent him his own aprons and measuring spoons. Making muffins, popovers, and pancakes became a regular activity.

Mind you, he's just turned 33 months, and while he has many surprising abilities (like being interested in baking!), his fine-motor skills are strictly age-appropriate. Mommy warned us of that when we decided to make muffins here this week.

I chose a simple blueberry muffin recipe from one of his books. His mom commented that the recipe didn't seem very good. I knew it was basic, but I wanted something easy for our first effort, and I thought oh, well, she's gotten to be a baking snob. This will be plenty good for the rest of us. (See the foreshadowing there?)

We had fun making the muffins. Augie wants to move fast, and once or twice I was out of position--dashing for a different mixing spoon, for example--and Pa had to reach in to keep him from dumping the wet ingredients into the dry before everything was ready. Filling the muffin cups was the biggest challenge--he wants to do it himself but needed some help if batter was actually going to get into the cups. I thought we worked out an okay compromise, and I evened out the batter once he was done.

Meanwhile, I gave Vi some sugar and cinnamon to stir, just to keep her busy. She did a great job, so I spooned that on top of the muffins. They looked great. We baked them, and they looked even greater. See how pretty they are?

The paper came off the first one beautifully. But when I broke the muffin in half, it crumbled. Uh-oh. I served it with a flourish anyway: "Here's a muffin that Augie and Vi made! Isn't it beautiful!" He tried a tiny bite, and set it down. From then on, they picked out the blueberries. Everything else turned into dry little crumbs, which scattered everywhere.

Abby was right; the recipe was much too plain to make good muffins. And with one bite, Augie knew it, too.

We'll probably bake with the kids again some day, but we've learned that if Augie the Muffin Man is going to eat it, it had better be good. This child knows about baking!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Flying feline

Our neighbors' cat has taken to launching itself at our kitchen window, where 15-year-old Mali defends her home turf. When they first got this cat, he came into the basement through our cat window, ignored our four resident hissing or cowering kitties, and marched up two flights to our bedroom. We mentioned it; they said it couldn't have been their cat because he was in the house all day. Uh-huh. This cat has distinctive polka-dot markings, though you can't see them in this picture of his underside.

Anyway, they started putting him on a leash...but then walking him through our yard and standing by while he sprayed our back door! Words were spoken. He stayed mostly indoors for years after that, until just the past couple of months. And now we have the hurtling-through-the-air window attacks. He walks up the steps, slips through the railing, and bang, he's all over the glass. Meanwhile, Mali--our only remaining four-footed family member--is hissing and yowling, and this often happens long before I was planning to wake up. Not to mention that I finally washed that window a few weeks ago and now it's totally smeared. I wasn't planning to do it again for...oh, say, a couple of years.

We've tried splashing water on the intruding cat, but he's not impressed. Now we've placed a pan of water where he lands, so he's been getting wet feet, which clearly annoys him. I think we should go for something a little deeper. No desire to hurt him, but we'd sure like him to stop hurling himself at us.

Ever seen anything like this?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'I found you!'

I woke up this morning feeling decidedly awful. Hadn't slept much all night and knew I would be worthless at the office. So I emailed my regrets to my coworkers and told Pa I was going back to bed for at least a couple of hours; I'd see how I was feeling after that. I heard the kids arrive, and I think I heard their mom remind them that Grandma would be gone to work all day today.

About a half-hour later, I heard Augie climbing the stairs. Pa tried to dissuade him, but he was not giving up. I heard him come into the bedroom and say, "I found her." But he couldn't actually see me and he must not have been quite sure, because he didn't advance until I stirred under the covers. He came running to the side of the bed, made eye contact, and shouted, "I FOUND YOU." With a big smile and a little dance of joy.

So yes, I got up and danced Ring Around the Rosy with them (feebly, but what do they know), and later I read some stories. And I got Augie the Nap Fighter to fall asleep within 10 minutes of the end of the pre-nap story, which made me feel pretty clever--and also gave me another hour I could nap in my own bed.

I'm pretty sure there wouldn't have been any little dances of joy when I showed up at work today. Maybe tomorrow, now that I've been out for a day?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas giving

Nobody quite believes it, but we really have cut back on Christmas spending. Peter LOVES to give the perfect gift, and on our first Christmas together (24 years ago) I was stunned by the number of gifts and the measures to which he'd gone to find just the right things. I began to match the numbers of gifts, though never the amount of diligent searching for hard-to-find items. We devoted enormous amounts of time specially wrapping our gifts, sometimes elaborately disguising the packages and always writing hints on the gift tags.

Twelve or 15 years ago, we began to buy holiday gifts for needy families. I organized an annual project at work to provide gifts for 36 families headed by single mothers working to get out of homelessness and into stable homes. (They participate in a program run by the local YWCA; the moms spend two years learning job, homemaking, parenting, and life skills.)

Each year Peter, Abby, and I would select one or more families and go to Target with wish lists provided by the moms. We'd select items for each family member until we'd reached our budget (translation: exceeded our intended budget by at least 20 percent) and felt we'd gotten a nice balance of gifts. If the mom only listed clothes for the kids, we got each one a small toy as well. If we got her household gifts, we added bath and body lotion. And maybe some candy for the family. It made us feel SO GOOD to select things that we knew were needed...cookware, for example, that would help someone feed her family, hopefully for a long time to come.

The satisfaction of doing that project soon made us reflect on our own gift-giving. We still love it, but with more simplicity and less excess than before.

It might have been tempting to overdo with the grandkids, but we don't. (No, really, we don't.) At their young ages, they are easily overwhelmed with too much stuff, including too many packages to open. And their parents wisely don't want them to equate Christmas with Tons Of Huge Presents. (Besides, we introduce new books and playthings periodically through the year, just to keep daycare fresh, so it's not like we deprive ourselves of the fun of giving them things.)

We've bought a few things for their Christmas, and we'll buy a few more, and we'll wrap them up and have great fun. But just at this moment the thing I'm looking forward to, the thing that gives me a little tickle of excitement, is shopping for the family I've adopted for this year, a mom and her daughters who otherwise wouldn't have gifts. I'll be getting the mom some pots & pans and a radio and some socks, and each of the girls some clothes and a doll. And I will enjoy it so much that it feels more self-indulgent than charitable. But that's often true of things we do for others.

P.S. I edited this post slightly after posting.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks, part two

It's no secret that Augie and Vi are at the top of my Things-I'm-Thankful-For list. I knew I would enjoy them, but I'm blown away by how much I love them. So what else comes to mind?

* Abby and Eric, who entrust their children to us regularly, and who in turn seem to appreciate everything we put into making our time together both fun and stimulating.

* Peter, who had the vision and foresight to want to do full-time daycare, long before the babies came along. And who has supplied the vision and foresight for many of our other adventures including saving the carousel and writing our book. Our talents complement one another in a way that makes us one very effective team when we set our minds to something.

* Blogging, a new creative outlet at many levels.

* Chocolate, dark.

* Sunshine. We haven't seen nearly enough of it during October and November, but December usually brightens up.

* Our good health (knock on wood). Aches and pains abound, but every day with no outright illness is a blessing.

* Christmas. I enjoy Thanksgiving, but I love Christmas. To me, Christmas begins on Friday (with list-making and putting wreaths on the doors and maybe a little shopping) and lasts until mid-January when we finally take down the last of the decorations and I give up on the notion of writing any more cards.

* Music. We both love music, and we're rediscovering it as we find new stuff to share with the kids. The kids are very musical, and Peter is turning out to be a very good teacher of music appreciation and skills. (Our bragging about their musicality goes on and on sometimes, and I catch myself thinking "we really need to shut up now.")

* Sleeping. I love sinking into my bed and pulling up the thick down comforter, and drifting off to sleep. So why am I still writing this at 2 a.m.? 'Cuz I'm a night person and 'cuz I can sleep in tomorrow morning. Wahoo!

That said, I really need to stop now.... Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving thanks, part one

About a year and a half ago, I was sitting in my car sobbing on a bright May morning because I didn't want to subject myself to one more day in the toxic cesspool that my place of work had become. Peter said, "Go in and quit. If it's this bad, just quit. We'll manage somehow." So I went to see the Human Resources guy, and described a few of the freakshow conditions to which our staff was being subjected. I told him what my husband had said. He asked me, "Is that what you want?" I took a deep breath and said, "Yes. This is sucking the life out of me. I have to get out."

The HR guy said, "There will be changes. Do you think you could wait a bit?" So I said yes, I'd wait it out. It took three more months, and then one day they fired our boss. Things got better immediately.

The same week, I realized that I did want to continue working, but fewer hours and with fewer responsibilities. I drew up a proposal to work 75 percent time as a senior writer-editor instead of a manager of seven creative people. "Okay," they said. And I wanted to work one of my days at home. "Okay." (A year later I said I'd like to go to half-time and they said "Okay" again.)

And that is how I went from a thoroughly unhappy, burned-out, acting-out director of publications to a mellow part-time writer-editor and part-time day-care grandma who calls herself blissed-out.

I am thankful that the HR guy was willing to suggest that I wait...he managed to tell me just enough without violating professional ethics, and he let me know that I was a valued employee who deserved consideration (of course I was, but our staff definitely didn't feel valued at the time).

I am also thankful to Peter for saying, "Quit if you need to." Feeling that I could quit made it less necessary to do so, because I no longer felt so trapped. It was not the first time he helped me through a nasty time at work, but I hope it's the last. There are two new bosses, and I like working with them. I love the work, and I'm good at it. And some day in the not-too-distant future (God willing and the creek don't rise), I'll retire to spend even more time with the grandbabies before they're off to school. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Second-child syndrome

I bet there are 60,000 images of Augie floating around on family computers and in carefully compiled photo albums, at least four of which I compiled myself. Vi? Not so much. I now understand what happens to second children (and, I'm sure, most kids after the Fabulous First). Or what doesn't happen. They are loved, for sure, but not so obsessively photographed. For one thing, each tiny new development is not quite such an amazing discovery to parents and grandparents. More important, two babies (one only 15 months older) are way more work. Anyway, here to help balance the cosmic photo record is a very recent snapshot of the sweet, beautiful, smart, and strong Lady Vi.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Nanny Diaries

We were all set to pay $89 for a Children's Museum membership until Abby paid $20 to add two nanny passes to their family membership card. So today Augie, Vi, Pa, and I set off on an adventure. The kids go often; we'd been once. The kids know all the ins and outs...they disappear into little rabbit warrens and tunnels and secret passageways. Just when you think they have to come out the way they went in...there's Augie emerging from another spot and running down the corridor.

I knew it was going to be crowded when I saw the full parking ramp...but I didn't know about the three Head Start buses. Man, the place was jammed full and LOUD, and everywhere you went there was a group coming out and another going in. Augie darted between them, and disappeared. More than once. Next time, he's wearing blaze orange. And maybe a pennant attached to the top of his head.

It was fun, nonetheless. Augie and I watched ourselves play rock guitar on TV. Then Vi did, too, but she's got some learning to do about showing off. On the other hand, she's good at makeup. At the face-painting table, I picked up a couple of crayons and drew little whiskers on her, very pale. She picked up a crayon and, knowing far better than I what she was doing, wet it on the sponge and made bright dots on her nose and upper lip.

In a little side room, Augie pulled all of the heavy building-platform-thingies and matching little ramps off the shelves and laid them out on the floor, then walked around being sure to step on each one. Vi played with water toys for a long time. Augie didn't play much there; instead he stood with his hands in the water and kept leaning out over it, clearly longing to dive in. I think he needs to get into a pool again, mom and dad.

The Minnesota wilderness room turned into a big game of Keepaway. I was surprised at how fearless Vi was, scampering into the anthill tunnels in spite of the bigger, louder boys in there. I literally had to drag her out while preventing an 8-year-old from stomping on her in his frenzy to get back into the tunnel. She was not happy or grateful to be saved. Note this; it will be a recurring theme later in her life.

It's a great place to go, everybody gets a good workout, and the two nannies now have a better idea of how to keep tabs on the kids, and where you can let them run while you station yourself at the lone exit. It's all about strategy. Besides, it's not like anybody has ever lost a kid there permanently. I'm sure we would have heard about it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Peapots and daffdobills

I love the way kids develop language skills. We celebrate their first words, and then their growing vocabularies, and then the ways they combine those words. Vi is at the one- and two-word stage, adding new ones very rapidly (porcupine and basketball are impressive recent additions). She has already begun to revise her pronunciation. She used to pronounce "Grandma" as "Mama." (No confusion, because her mother is "Mommy," always.) But now she's saying "Ahma." She's figured out that "m' was the wrong sound at the beginning of the word Grandma. She swallows the "g" which is why it comes out "Ahma" (rhymes with mama). But clearly she recognized the difference and is correcting herself.

A favorite book now is "Peapot." She says it over and over while fetching the book and getting settled to read it. "Peapot," of course, is really "Teapot," as in "I'm a Little...." Some day soon she'll start calling it that. And I'll be a little sad....

Just as I was last spring when Augie dropped the fabulously adorable "daff-do-bills" because he learned to say "daffodils." Sigh. They grow up so fast.

Speaking of Augie, he can talk up a storm when he's in the mood. And while there is a difference in their skill levels because of their age difference, I'm thinking there is a difference in style that will persist even when age is no longer a factor. Example: Ask them, "Would you like some oatmeal." Augie will say, "Oh, YES I do." Vi says, "Yup."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mudonna!

Augie and Vi took their parents and grandparents to the open house at the St. Paul Saints sports training facility today. Wow, it's a huge and fantastic place, dreamed and created by our friend Lamarr. There were footballs and soccer balls and tee balls and tennis balls, and Augie played with all of them. Vi was having a good time kicking the ball with the soccer coach (who plays for the Thunder) until he actually said "Hi." Oops, meltdown. He didn't give up, though, and eventually they got a nice little game going--as long as he kept his distance and Mommy stayed close.

What a difference when Mudonna showed up. Instant love! They played peekaboo and catch, and before long Vi climbed into her lap. Augie ran around the whole place picking up soccer balls and bringing them to the big pink pig as gifts. The kids are always excited to see Mud at the ballpark, but they've never had this much up-close-and-personal time. Whoever was in the suit today did a great job with them. (Mudonna is played by different people, who have different schtick. In summer 2008, Mudonna would do a great big sneeze, which cracked Augie up. Never happened in '09, but for most of the summer he still said "Achoo!" when he saw the mascot or a picture of her.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Story time

We've been in a reading mood this week. Augie was always a book-lover (he was 10 mos in this photo with Pa). Vi preferred looking at pictures, upside-down, but now she too picks out stories, listens all the way through, and says "Again?" (Not really a question.) Today we read Elmo Loves You four times in a row, an alphabet verse book three times, and lots of others.

Much of the time Pa/Peter and I are both reading aloud, simultaneously, each to a different kid. These dueling narratives used to make me crazy, because (a) he has a booming delivery and (b) words coming in through my ears trump words I'm trying to read. But we have managed to accommodate one another, and it's all become much more enjoyable. (I had suggested that we could read in separate rooms, but it's more fun being together in the living room, which allows the kids to trade off, bringing one book to me and the next to Pa.)

Many of Vi's new favorites were well loved by Augie and still resonate. So Augie and I might be deep into Arthur's Birthday or Tootle, but, if Pa starts reading Goodnight Moon, Augie will look up and tune in to that. I just pause until he turns back to our pages.

But we're entering a new phase: increasingly, there are books that both kids want to hear at the same time. We'll all snuggle together and read I'm a Little Teapot (the world adventures version) or nursery rhymes or But Not the Hippopotamus. I suspect Vi will come to love Max with his Wild Things and Alexander with his terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. And over time, we'll find ourselves introducing new stories to both kids at once.

When Vi turned 15 months, Augie was twice her age. But with each month that goes by, the difference shrinks a little, and in many ways--reading being one of them--that will add to the fun.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm just not a morning person

Every fall when we go off Daylight Savings Time, I resolve that instead of taking the extra hour of sleep, I'll keep getting up at the "old" time. I'll get an earlier start on the day, and it should be painless, right? But to make it work, I'd need to go to bed on the old time, too, and I just never do. I'm a night person. I like the quiet hour or so after the news, and after my husband goes to bed, to just read or play computer games. I do get up more cheerfully than ever before when the kids are coming, even when they come extra-early. And my office hours include only one morning a week. So maybe I'll just let go of that whole resolution thing here and now. There, I feel better already.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh, right, the WASHABLE markers

Augie was excited about "painting" the pumpkin we had purchased last week, so I grabbed a marker and he went to it. Suddenly I realized I'd given him an indelible Sharpie. By the time I got the washable markers, we had a few black streaks on the kids' blue table, and a few more on our hands, but no matter. It's a beautiful cooking pumpkin, even more beautiful now. And it should make good pie, or muffins, or soup--haven't decided yet.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturdays in October...

...are supposed to be crisp and sunny, as in this shot of our North Woods maple on the 17th. But we had snow and gloom on the 10th (below), and heavy wet leaves on the ground on the 24th after more snow and gloom. Feels like we missed October and went straight to November. I hate November. I think I'll move to Australia (where it's spring).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Drum Duo

As sweet, smart, and talented as she is, ViMae hasn't cared much about performing for the camera. This debut drum duo may be the start of something big! Inspiration comes from the Blue Devil hip-hop drummers. The instrumentation is pure Augie...kitchen cans are just the latest drum kit he's devised.

video

Friday, October 2, 2009

Peter and the Wolf

So one day Augie stands up his guitar and bows it with a drumstick. "What are you playing?" "I'm playing the cello part to 'Peter and the Wolf.'" Not only that, he sings a pretty faithful version of Peter's theme. By the next day, he is trying also to play the bass and violin, since Peter's theme is played by all the strings. He can identify all the other parts, but he doesn't have a clarinet, oboe, or bassoon. Yet.
video

My computer hates me

I got a new, more powerful computer for Christmas, and I really enjoyed how much faster everything worked. Until July, when suddenly the hard drive quit. Got a new one, which worked fine until yesterday, when it quit again. Possibly a virus this time; the computer shop is restoring as much as they can. I back up everything to an external drive, but I won't know until next week whether that is also infected. Aarrgghh. We have five other computers in this house, but I WANT MINE! Seriously, I feel so dispossessed I can't believe it. Time to start a new, non-computer project to keep my mind off it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary...

...to my wonderful husband, who has taught me to take an occasional risk, enjoy life's little moments, and "know what you want." Orchids, a great dinner last night, and wonderful brunch at The St. Paul Hotel today, while planning a trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year. Our last trip was to New York for his mom's funeral in April. We got to Manhattan one windy day, and took a series of photos to parallel Curious George's adventures in The Big City.






That last one is called "Trouble on the Big Board." If you know Curious George, you'll know the story. If not, you're already thinking, "Don't these people have a life?" (Yes we do, and we love it.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

TBT: Augie playing Pinetop

This first appeared in September 2009.

When Augie was just over a year old, he'd come in the door and head for the den, saying "Dah-Nn." Doctor John. The DVD is "Dr. John Teaches You to Play New Orleans Piano," and Augie's immediate favorite was "Pinetop Boogie." While I struggled to learn fingering, he absorbed the music, heart and soul. Here's proof.

video video

video video

Monday, September 21, 2009

Found food

Our friend Molly Balcom is a performance artist who uses food to make us think about the environment. In a major piece at the Soap Factory, she created a whole range of flowers, plants, seeds, and roots using edible materials, and had the audience forage through the rooms, collecting specimens to be eaten as part of a picnic lunch. A character talked about humans first trying various indigenous plants: "How do we know it's delicious until we eat it?"

For 19 years we have ignored the apples growing on a tree in our yard. Didn't want to spray chemicals, so the apples tend to get spotty; then they fall and the critters get them.

This year, Augie has been picking them up. Most of the time we get to inspect before he chomps down, and he's learned to find solid whole ones, watch out for brown spots, etc. Along the way, I've discovered that our apples are crisp, tart, and juicy. Today I picked up an apple from the ground, turned it around, wiped it off, and ate it. We plan to prune the tree so the fruit is closer to the ground and we can actually do some harvesting next year.

How do we know it's delicious until we eat it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I'm writing minutes for the carousel board...

...but first, a little distraction. In August we visited barns full of carousel figures, band organs, and real horses. Beautiful day! Beautiful girl!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Grandma's favorite baseball song

video

Garden photos

I keep meaning to print and frame some of my photos for a "winter garden," but this blog gives me a place to post them in the meantime....



Phlox


Bellflowers and roses


Red Admiral butterfly

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On timeouts and unconditional love

We suddenly have a two-and-a-half-year-old who has discovered, to his joy and dismay, that when you say don't do that, HE CAN DO IT ANYWAY. Sometimes that's dangerous. And in general, nobody likes a kid who doesn't respect any rules. On the other hand, it took me 45 years to learn that when somebody said don't do that, I could do it anyway. Just like their parents, Pa and I want to feed the spirits of our grandbabies, not break them. Talking late last night, he and I agreed that the timeout system had resulted in a momentous struggle and bad feelings yesterday, and we need to find a new way. For example, at daycare, a timeout might be spent in an embrace and discussion, rather than in an enforced isolation followed by discussion. I don't know how The Nap Wars are progressing in my absence right now, but a few moments ago, this story about timeouts and unconditional love  popped up in the New York Times.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Augie's baseball card

Weeks ago, Peter decided to make Augie a baseball card to match the Saints set, and to have it ready the day the Saints set came out. We got a copy of the art (thanks, Jim) and spent a little over a week masking photos (me) and creating the card (Peter). We obsessed, because "anything worth doing is worth overdoing."
On the front is a photo Eric took on his cellphone one day when our friend took them into the dugout so Augie could try on catcher's gear (thanks, Lamarr).On the back, Augie is wearing the catcher's mask that Pa made for him. It's starting to show the wear and tear of a well-loved piece of gear.

The day the cards were given out, we got extra packs (thanks, Derek) and took two to the kids' house, with Augie's card slipped in. Peter tossed one pack to Eric, whose face lit up when he saw Augie's card. Meanwhile, Peter showed cards to Augie, who would name players he knew and then drop the card on the floor and look at the next one. "Alex... Kyle... Augie... Tony...." No big deal. Doesn't every kid have a card? Isn't Augie on the team? In fact, doesn't he own the place?
I'm also posting the photo I took in summer '08, which Pa used on Augie's "rookie card." It may be my all-time favorite photo. Of anyone. Ever. So far.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Steel-cut oats, who knew?

Okay, I had heard of steel-cut oats, but I hadn't tried them until a cold and rainy day last April, when I noticed that Jamba Juice was featuring them. Yum--chewy nutty texture that shows quick-cooked oatmeal for what it is: mush. I began eating steel-cut oats nearly every workday, switching between sliced banana and berry or apple toppings. I figured they'd stop serving it when the weather warmed up, but because the oatmeal was selling well in Hawaii, it stayed on the menu during our warm weather, too. 

Meanwhile, though, Peter decided we should try this at home. It's not that hard to make, and it has so many health benefits, and it's so good (we mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, and a spoonful of yogurt). A few times when daycare started before breakfast, we found that the kids loved this stuff, too. Now we start eating it before they come, but we usually still have some to share. I suppose some day they could decide they like the mushy stuff better, but at least they're gonna know about steel-cut oats way earlier in life than we did!

And now that I'm eating most breakfasts at home, I'm saving the $3.16 I paid four days a week at Jamba Juice. But I find myself hoping that other people are buying it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day...

is rarely as sunny and beautiful as today. We've had a whole string of beautiful days, which helps offset the sad fact that daylight hours are getting shorter.

Beginning this week, I am working only 20 hours a week--one full day and two long afternoons. I'll be here to participate with "Pa" in daycare two mornings and two full days every week, hurray!

That may be why I have a sudden, unprecedented interest in window-washing, a task we've successfully ignored much of the time. Another trigger may be the fact that a couple of weeks ago, I bought $100 worth of cleaning products from, er, a door-to-door sales person. One big selling point was how they cleaned glass and, because of a surfactant, protected against new smudges.

That remains to be seen, but my investment did get me up on a ladder washing windows, and I'm going out now to do some more. Amazing how much more light comes through a clean window!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TBT: Being thankful for every day

This first appeared August 26, 2009; it was my third-ever blog post. 

Today's Cryptogram was "Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year." It's Ralph Waldo Emerson (not LL Cool J, who apparently posted it on his web site recently).
Just yesterday I was thinking about the fact that being grateful for each new day is one of the better pieces of self-help-book advice I ever got. Habitually making the conscious choice to appreciate what you've got changes your approach to the day. I notice it in my responses when greeted with "How are you?" Old responses: tired, overworked, hate the weather, I have this ache.... New responses, at least some of the time: great, love this sunshine, too busy but glad to have a job in this economy, and of course the newly popular, having the time of my life being a grandma.

That single change makes things go better, and it's a bit of a gift to others, too, since negative energy sucks the life out of everyone around. Being open--loving life, things, people--makes us grow existentially; we expand to incorporate in our being that which we love.

I was thinking about these things last night while I couldn't sleep (which made today's Cryptogram a timely surprise). I started thinking about the prayer we were taught to say as children: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." My mother assured me that I was asking God to watch over me, but it sure seemed that I was inviting someone to snatch my soul in the middle of the night. What a creepy thing to teach a child. What did we learn from this recitation, except fear? How did it teach us to be good little people?

So at 2 or 3 a.m. I asked myself, "What prayer would I teach a child, if I were going to do such a thing?" I decided it would be something like, "I give thanks for this new day; please help me use it well." And later in the day, "Thanks for all the good things that happened today." And then we'd talk about good and not-so-good things from the day that offer teachable moments.
When Peter woke up too, I mentioned this, and we agreed that these are messages Augie and Vi are already getting. Mommy Abby is effusive and animated about pretty much everything they do and see in the course of a day, and any little gift or kindness that someone extends. They can't possibly just take things for granted when she is so relentlessly appreciative. I talk to Augie about this beautiful day, the beautiful garden, the wonderful sunny day... and now we hear him express his own appreciation of beauty...that's a beautiful cat, look at all the beautiful flowers, etc. And we all celebrate the kids' achievements, letting them know how clever, funny. strong, talented, beautiful, kind, and loving they are.

I sometimes have wondered whether we confuse the quest for happiness with spiritual growth. But I have no doubt that these life-affirming, positive, confidence-building messages are totally superior to anything I got from the Catholic Church of my youth. When happiness is based on authentic appreciation of what one has and is and does, it will produce children (and grownups) who are far more fully developed individuals, in pretty much every dimension, than we ever were. As for me, in my new-found blissed-out state, I am a better person than I have been for a long time!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails