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.


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