Dana: December 2008 Archives



P.S. The holiday greeting from Momversation. The boys are hysterical and I feel a little like Steve Martin from his SNL Christmas skit:



The Ozarks Experience

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Last week we packed up the boys, packed up the van, and drove south, far south, to visit family for the holidays. The area to where we drove is an area where the gas stations look less like luxury marts and more like straight-up filling stations with a bait shop attached to the side. It's a place where motels are a straight line of small rooms with big picture windows, the sorts of motels that inspire horror movies. The roads are narrow, the shoulders even more so, but the coffee is black and the radio stations are quirky and good.

View from the car

We came across one such peculiar little station that played nothing but old Hank Williams, Sr., and only the good covers of his songs. I would take that station out for a date if it was possible. Sit back and let this tune play in a separate window while enjoying the drive down south with us.
 
Barn

One of my favorite things about driving down south is the difference in the scenery - more specifically, the idiosyncrasies or other things which underscore the differences between your environment and the one in which you're entering. I sometimes poke fun my experiences from spending weekends and entire summers down south, but really, I adore them. I love the more primitive, no BS stick-and-barbed-wire fence above.
 
Baptist church

The further south in Missouri you go, the more Baptist and Pentecost churches you come across. If you're anything other than those two denominations, you're SOL. The town in which most of my family lives is tiny but boasts more churches per square mile than any other town I've seen. Sometimes I laugh because it seems like they all compete for parishioners with their roadside Vegas-y light-up signs, all of them trying to out-motto each other. Many of these churches don't have a baptistery per say; all of my aunts and a couple cousins were dunked in the big creek at the other end of town. The fire-and-brimstone preacher from my youth redeemed himself to me somewhat by holding my grandmother's hand and praying for her on the morning she passed away.
  
Aged barn

This photo was of poor quality so I Photoshopped the tar out of it. The barn pictured was a few miles before the lone super Wal-Mart, which sits on a hill overlooking the highway and empty plains surrounding it. A few miles on down the road is a white, pitched-roof building with a handmade sign marking it as simply "Gregory's." Chris was all "Gregory's WHAT?" The proprietor, my aunt told us, is a large man called Tiny Gregory who worked on stock cars or something and his place used to be a garage. When he shut the garage down he took part of the sign with it, leaving "Gregory's." Chris wants a sign on our house that says "Chris's." Sadly, I couldn't get a decent photo of it because of the torrential downpour.
 
Empty house

Another aunt of mine lived in a house just like this in the middle of town behind the railroad tracks. My cousins and I used to sit on her porch swing with sticky Fourth-of-July pops and motion for the conductor to pull the whistle for us. The last time I saw her alive I'd taken Liam (who was a toddler at the time) out to walk on the tracks and throw pebbles while the others kept a vigil inside. That was his first glimpse of death. She passed away several years ago and I haven't seen the house since. I'll never forget her homemade red velvet cake.

Driving south

I have a large family, but we're scattered and segregated due to the storms brought on by some after my grandparents passed away. I've written about it here before; it's in my extensive archives, spanning five years, which I still plan to restore at some point. Because of this, southern Missouri doesn't look the same to me. That united, happy family still lives in my memories, though my celebrations with them are limited to the time loops of earlier livin'.
 
Long drive into the wood

The sister to whom my mother is the closest, my favorite aunt and uncle, live down a long gravel road. I have no idea what would draw someone to build a house so far from the town lights, away from any and everything, but then again, there are times when I'm so fed up with people that I'm moved to march through the wood as far as I can and scratch out a home in the hills. It's romantic to think that on some days the only conversation you'd get is that of the wind whispering between the branches.

Cabin by the river

The view from my aunt's front porch. During past visits my uncle paraded the kids down to the river's banks and they skipped stones; this visit it poured nearly the entire time (which is why most of the photos are taken from the car) and they would sink up to their knees in mud, so they didn't go. I love the way the branches are gnarled and curled every which way. It's my favorite part of the photo.

This was one of the best visits to date. It's good to tend to your roots. (Even better when your aunt sends you home with a tin of homemade chocolate truffles, cookies, and bon-bons.)
Click any photo above for an extended or different description.
Popping in for a quick update: I've contributed to another episode over at Momversation. It's funny; I've always thought - especially online - that me or anyone saying that we have clear-cut beliefs and that we find strength in our faith will elicit eyerolls or hateful commentary. (I don't just think; it has.) It's been my experience that taking this stance is unpopular. Sure, the majority of people in America identify themselves as Christian but that question is illogical if you're using it alone to define spirituality: ask how many people regularly go to church or read the Bible and the answers will be quite different. Really though, I think everyone feels that their beliefs will be criticized. It's an insecurity we all share. Yay!

I made several important points which weren't included in the final cut of this episode that I would really like to share here:

- I don't want to raise my kids with a blind faith, but with a discerning faith. I don't want them to walk into any house of worship and holler "I'll take what you're sellin!"

- I believe that when my kids leave my house they should have a solid foundation. I don't want them spending the better part of their most productive years trying to "find themselves" or wondering what they believe. I feel that it's my job as their mother to make sure that they are ready when it's time to leave the nest and to help them with their decisions now. It's not pushing anything down their throats, no more than telling them to eat their vegetables or that no, Green Day and Sum 41 are not real punk, listen to some Ramones or The Dickies.

- I don't think you need Jesus to be a nice person but if you want to get to Heaven, Christian beliefs dictate that you kinda require Him.

Not all Christians are like Carrie White's mother. Thank goodness for that.



A Christmas parable of sorts

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This morning Chris told me about a woman he passed on his way inside city hall yesterday. The woman was sitting on the steps wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tiny, inadequate coat. She asked him for some money.

"Sorry, I don't have any," he replied, before hurrying in for a meeting.

The image of this woman in the cold bothered him to the point of distraction throughout the entire meeting, but what bothered him even more, he said, was his dismissive reaction. Chris isn't a rich man, but he pulled what little he had out of his pocket and had it ready to hand to her as he left the building, but she was gone.

This has weighed on his heart heavily and he feels ashamed. Every single one of us has been that woman - maybe not in severity, maybe in a different form, maybe with a different problem, but each of us has been in a position where we have needed something from another. I know we have. We all have instances similar to this: where we see a person in need but yet we wonder if the need is real or if they're hustlers.

No matter our lot, we can always give to need but yet if we give to the hustler we feel as though we're essentially being robbed and we have less resources for those with true need and even less for our own. So we've all developed a practice wherein we try to quickly assess a person's needs. Do their pants look too new? Are their shoes too shiny? Because if they are then they surely must not be in need and, you know, need is an arbitrary definition that changes depending upon circumstance. You're behind a woman in line at the grocery store who's dressed in nice clothes and paying with food stamps; is she a hustler? Maybe. Or maybe she's too embarrassed or too proud to dress down to the expectations of need.
 
I've been in Chris's position many times and many times I've walked on by without saying a word. One day we were in the McDonald's drive-thru line and a man tapped on my window. He said he needed gas money as he'd run out. Could I help him? Two little pairs of eyes watched from booster seats behind me. I needed to choose my next move carefully. I'd just spent the afternoon at the grocery store poring over my list, making sure I had the necessary coupons and bought inexpensive and sale items.

He may well have been hustling me. He may have been lying about why he needed money. I reached down into my purse, opened my wallet, and handed him the only note I had, a five dollar bill. He thanked me profusely, looked straight down the barrels of my eyes and said "God bless you for this. I mean it." And then he walked away.

I didn't give him money because I wanted to buy a blessing from God. I didn't do it because I thought it was another test of faith that I had to ace. I did it because who on earth am I to judge this man? Me, a person who once had to leave her grocery cart at the store because my card was declined. Me, a child who had to borrow notebook paper growing up because I was too poor to buy any. I've been on the other end of this situation and I craved anyone, anything that would give me the dignity to bear it.

I don't want to come off as preachy by any means, but while everyone is out celebrating the birth of Christ, please remember what exactly that birth meant. Many years ago someone did pass by us when we were in need. He didn't pause to critically assess whether or not we were worth saving, worth helping, He just did it anyway.

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for an equally wonderful New Year. I'll pop in sporadically with a photo or two before resuming regular posting after January 1st.



Kid-toucher websites dot com

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The internet is capable of two things simultaneously: it can make me feel connected and informed, and it can also make me feel completely neurotic. It's also hard to be a parent. Parenting in the information age? That much harder. Sometimes I wonder if the worry it gives me outweighs the benefits. I talk about it this week with some of the other ladies over at Momversation.



Handmade Christmas

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Name tags with children!

The other day I got this harebrained idea to do a craft project with the kids. I'd purchased some posterboard and was going to let them cut Christmas photos and graphics from my old magazines to make Christmas montages. Because kids love cutting things! And also glue! But then I decided to get ridiculously complicated with it and thought it a better idea to make three-dimensional name tags that people won't notice anyway on Christmas day because they'll be too busy ripping open the wrapping paper.

I did that one year: I made all the tags and distressed them myself to make them look vintage; I took regular brown paper bags and decorated them with stamps. I tied them all up with raffia and tissue paper I'd purchased at a local paper/stationary boutique. Barely anyone even noticed. The presents were ripped open, the name tags were lost in piles of trash, the tissue paper was torn. At the time I thought that next year I'd serve presents straight from a trough. As expected, time mellowed my mood and lightened the intense cynical nature I involuntarily adopt at what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year.

(Did I mention that an overzealous shopper almost hit Ewan in a parking lot yesterday? A driver was so afraid to park more than 300 feet from the store entrance that he sped by us, practically pinning us against our vehicle and brushing against Ewan's coat he was THAT CLOSE. Chris had to physically restrain me. We live in an age where trinkets are valued more than life. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS!)

And just like women forget all about the pain and agony of childbirth when they plan for more children, I decided to get all superfluous and crafty again with the presentation of gifts this year. This was due, in part, to our severely pinching pennies this holiday season and giving people small, thoughtful, and/or local and handmade gifts. I wanted the packaging to match the thought that went into each gift.

Just like the Grinch smiled when he thought about taking the Who's Christmas away, so did I also smile when I thought about making three-dimensional name tags. It was more about me than about others I think, which is a right lesson to demonstrate when you're cramming the true meaning of Christmas down the throats of your children before they can fill up on mass commercialism. Irony is delicious. Hindsight is also 20/20.

So the boys and I gathered around the dining room table and cut out photos and graphics from my Martha Stewart, Domino, and Home Companion magazines. I trimmed up that which Ewan cut, before gluing the cutouts onto posterboard and cutting those out. We affixed the posterboard ornaments onto small rectangles of posterboard onto which Liam had glued decorative cardstock to form the base of the tag. Afterwards we ended up with just enough for each gift. We also completely hated crafts by this time and I was covered in glitter. I could taste it, even. I had an urge to wash it down with some Maker's Mark.

Name tags with children! Name tags with children!

But! Name tags were finished, we'd not spend one cent besides a dollar for the posterboard, and I logged some homeschool hours for math (measuring each name tag) and art. I then noticed that Ewan had operated under the assumption that he was making name tags for himself when I saw his name scrawled on half of them.

I'm looking at the bright side. At least he can spell. And the glitter just made me look festive. 

Breast Christmas Ever

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I took my kids to see the Mall Santa Claus today after the incessant "don't be a Scrooge!" from both my inbox and from my husband. I stood in line and went along with all the other little stories that the parents were telling their kids, like "Santa's off feeding his reindeer right now." The whole thing felt like a deleted scene from "A Christmas Story."

I didn't spoil the boys' wide-eyed wonderment, and Ewan was in such awe by the time it was their turn to sit with Santa that I had to retrieve his jaw from the floor so as to get him moving. I was going to sneak some photos of them meeting Santa for the first time but the elves said it was prohibited and one of them was staring at me as I tried to take photos with my phone (which was futile and I only got shots of my thumb).

It was even more precious when Liam told Santa that all he wanted for Christmas was "to have the breast Christmas ever."

He was a good Santa; he didn't skip a beat and with a straight face said that all of his Christmases should be the best ones ever.

Ewan told Santa that he wanted a Toodee, a train, and a "spot elephant." I'm all WTF? on that last one, too. 

On the way out we saw some Marines ("NUTCRACKERS!" Ewan hollered and pointed. I didn't correct him because in a way it was true) and other servicemen and as custom, we stopped them, shook their hands, and thanked them for their service. I am not a mushy person by any means but to see Liam give thanks nearly made me sob like a big giant baby right in the mall next to a kiosk of knock-off purses.

Waiting for Santa
Waiting for Santa.

Slow to wake on a snow day

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I would spend the day here in a heartbeat

I had to tear myself away from the warmth of my bed to go on air before the sun rose. I wasn't the only one who had problems this morning.
 
Bed head

We're spending the day wrapped in knits, layers, and other warm things and hoping to ward off cabin fever. Lest you think we're overdoing it, a three-story, 117-year-old house can be kind of drafty.

Christmas socks

And as become habit over the past month, we'll have hot chocolate with marshmallows to go along with the day's lessons. Speaking of which, Ewan is finishing up his K4 stuff and will be ready for Abeka's K5 curriculum after Christmas.

K4 work

I wasn't expecting to start so early with him but one of the reasons we chose to do this was so we could move along at their pace, when they are ready.

I have some hysterical letters to Santa to "mail" that the boys are currently writing. I'll share them tomorrow. 

Elsewhere

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I've started writing for the Imperfect Parent as a columnist and Prescott over there has been so kind as to work around my litany of daily deadlines. I enjoy writing for them and am happy to add to their catalog of invaluable content. My monthly column focuses on homeschooling; I'll be going into the whys, the hows, and just how we live it daily. This first installment goes into why we homeschool and I think it's the most concise definition I've ever written:

"Even more important than that, Chris and I live our lives according to the philosophy that life is short: do what you love. We fervently believe that each person has been put on this earth with a specific gift or skill and that our job as parents is to identify, recognize, and encourage the development of those gifts."

Please check it out in full.

Also, I've been playing Monopoly for the Wii and have written about my experiences for Blogher here.

Are you ready for another kid?

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I recently joined the lovely ladies over at Momversation, the first of its kind internet talk show, and I'll be recording regular episodes. I'm excited about doing something in a different medium. My first one is up and it deals with the age-old question of when (and if) to add to your family. As I say in the video, it's something we've been discussing and we're being gently nudged by family. Which kind of weirds me out because, you know, they're essentially telling us to do it.

Fa la la la where's the eggnog?

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O tennenbaum

I was going to post some shots of our tree this year but then I realized that it looks pretty much the same as last year's tree (minus the shelves which fell after the earthquake resulting in plaster repair) so there you go.

We not going over the top for presents this year as we're reigning in our Christmas spending because:

a) the economic times have put stress on small businesses, of which we are one
b) we're hoarding what we have so we can ride this economic downturn.
c) hookers and blow
d) answers A and B

It dovetails nicely with my theory that we focus too much on material excess anyway, but now at least I have a solid reason to back it up and not seem like a tightwad.

We're changing things up this Christmas by going 99% local and/or handmade. I'm hoping that our inability to get fancy with presents is offset by the fact that an inordinate amount of love and thought has gone into each gift. I'm not going to get into the details of it all considering my immediate family reads my website, but we are rolling up our shirtsleeves and playing the part of Santa's workshop elves. It's been a bit of a dream to not have to go into a mall and shop. I can share what the boys are receiving: I've been making Ewan a teddy bear out of leftover fabric I had stored away in my office; each of the boys will receive arm warmers made from yarn they chose themselves; I burned Liam a disc of Dropkick Murphys tracks from my iTunes collection; each of them will get a couple of games, provided by Nintendo, for the Wii; we're also looking at getting sturdy, but inexpensive bunkbeds for the boys off of Craigslist as Ewan has outgrown his toddler bed.

I've compiled a list of local, handmade items that I am drooling over, some of which may be (or already is) under our tree. All are local and handmade. None of these people are paying me (or even know I'm making this list). Mamalogues Buying Local and Handmade Gift Guide 2008:

Maybe there is a Santa Claus

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Chris and I screwed up big time the other day.

One of Liam's front teeth fell out, leaving him with a gap-toothed smile that melts my heart and that much more room in his mouth for backsass. The tooth was loose for forever and Liam refused to let us pull it out lest we take his head off in the process. One morning while getting out of the shower I heard Liam yelling from downstairs, something about oh gawd help him, Daddy is trying to rip his tooth out of his head. Liam has mastered the thespian discipline of drama at the tender age of eight years, so I wasn't concerned.

I love his toothless grin

"If you'd just stand still it'll be out in a second!" Chris hollered back.

Later Liam showed me his tooth and we stored it carefully in a snack-sized Ziploc bag and wondered aloud about how much money the tooth fairy would bring him.

A couple of days later while on the phone with his grandmother, Liam said that the tooth fairy was a bunch of crap because she didn't leave him anything and his tooth was still under his pillow.

Parents = FAIL.

"I thought you got it," Chris whispered.

"No, I thought you did."

While Liam was on the phone I darted into the boys' room and shoved a dollar underneath his pillow and snatched his tooth. Which reminds me: I will never forget the day I found a bagful of my baby teeth while searching for a belt to borrow in my mom's dresser. I thought that she maybe had taken up voodoo before I realized what it was. It simeltaneously touched me that she saved them and bummed me out because I had always wondered what exactly happened to my baby teeth and seeing them there in a bag in her dresser drawer caused any remaining fairy dust to dissipate. I was like, 14, too, which makes it even more pathetic.

Liam caught on to us and told Chris that he knows he just shoved a dollar underneath his pillow. The tone in which he said it, the sigh he gave at the end, really struck me. I've written before how I detest the Easter Bunny, Santa, all of that make-believe junk because it seems like such a distraction from the real reasons they exist, but when I heard the snideness in Liam's voice I realized right then that I don't want to raise a cynic like myself. If I can give him even a temporary suspense of reality, a tiny big of magic in his youth, then perhaps that's something.

So I swooped in and told one of the biggest lies in my life about how oh yes, the tooth fairy is real, and how much money did you get? A dollar? I was ripped off; the most I ever got was maybe fifty cents. Chris chimed in and agreed without missing a beat while throwing me an sideways incredulous glance. And Liam's eyes grew wider and he began to brag slightly about how his tooth brought in more than either of his parents had ever received. He folded the dollar into his bulldog wallet and wiggled another loose tooth in his mouth.

"Can't wait to see how much I get for this one," he exclaimed. "It's a big one!"

His wide-eyed wonder was restored and I have to admit, it's kind of catching.

From today's soundtrack

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I'm a fan of the Dropkick Murphys (their site seems to be down at the moment) and the video below is Liam's favorite song.



Four

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Someone had a good birthday.

He has a thing for hats

That I can still remember the day he was born so clearly, how he was thrashing about and hollering his head off even as he was being born, nearly suspends the reality of his birthday for me. Ewan is four-years-old now and yet he so very much looks like a baby to me. Except, as he is quick to point out, he's not.
 
Happy birthday to you

He's been working out of Liam's old preschool materials since the start of the school year and I feel pretty confident in moving him to kindergarten materials after Christmas. He can write his name, he can read simple words, and do simple addition. He's learned so much just by being at Liam's elbow whenever Liam does his lessons. He's fascinated with by haunted house shows, ghosts, skeletons, trains, scary books, the grim reaper, and much to my chagrin and Chris's delight, Rush is his favorite band. He also loves James Brown and can sing along to "Superbad."

He loved his cake

Ewan is completely different from his brother, and in some ways he and I resemble each other emotionally. Ewan is an introvert. He's not shy in the least; he just doesn't care much to socialize with others. During playgroups with other kids, he's content to sit in a chair beside me and while I talk to the other moms he will read a book or color. It took me two years of encouraging him to play with other kids before he finally rolled his eyes and indulged me. He's a quiet fellow and the only time he's loud is when he's displeased. He's incredibly compassionate, very protective of his big brother and me, even though he's shorter and stockier than Liam was at his age. Ewan is built like a tank and if one of my boys should grow up to be a boxer or MMA athlete, it will be Ewan.
 
The cake. For a four-year-old.

He got the cake he wanted, right down to the inscription on the tombstone. My mother was positively giddy about being able to have his cake made; I've always made the children's cakes and I think their grandmothers are itching at the possibility of being able to take that over for one or two of their birthdays. He saw his cake when he approached the table and the corners of his mouth pulled up to his eyebrows.

"It's very nice," he said before we all serenaded him with a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Then he blew out his candles.

Before I had two children I always wondered how I would be able to love another little human so unconditionally. That I would doubt the size of my heart sounds weird, but many mothers wonder. Your heart expands, along with your womb, those nine months. When Ewan was born I noticed his distinct personality from the beginning. I call him cantankerous at times, but strictly in a facetious, lovable sense. I would not change a single thing about him, even how he's a total morning person. He wakes me up on weekends by tiptoeing to the side of my bed and whispering "It's good morning time!" in my face. You have to welcome the sun after a wake up call like that.

The rest of our Thanksgiving; click on a photo to enlarge.
 
From across the table. I had to wash the Martha Stewart off me after this
My father-in-law and my mother
More.
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Dana asks: "Thanksgiving Traditions: Yours or Your Mother's?"