Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A penny saved is a penny earned.
-Benjamin Franklin

Did you know?

Norah's learning about money right now; pennies are worth one cent, nickels are worth five, etc.

We took a magnifying glass to one of our brand new pennies today and with the help of educational websites, we discovered a lot of neat history we usually overlook.

If you have a penny minted in 2008, you can see the initials VDB on the bottom of Lincoln's sleeve. These initials are infamous and there's a rumor about their obvious placement as part of the design...

They stand for V.D. Brener, the man who designed this Lincoln profile used since 1909. But, interestingly, V.D. Brener was not the Chief Engraver of the US Mint at the time, Charles Barber was. Usually, the Chief Engraver always got the honor of designing new coins... So, it is said that Barber went behind the scenes and insisted that all of VD Brener's initials be put on the coin in an effort to make Brener look arrogant about his work and take personal revenge for not being given the honor of designing the new coin himself. Am I sharing history here or spreading gossip? I may never know, but the Lincoln penny replaced the "Indian Head" that was on the front of the coin before that.

The current design on the back of the coin has been around since 1959. It replaced the design with two wheat stalks on the back. (I have a penny like this from the forties. I almost used it at Burger King the other day ...Yes. I am that lady, who holds up the line by paying in exact change. But, I noticed that the back of the penny was unique and in the nick of time replaced it with another penny before I got my burgers. I am glad I saved it, since now I know why it looks so different!)

The words on the back, "E Pluribus Unum," mean "Out of many, one" which is fitting for a coin that is worth one cent.

You probably know that Lincoln's profile is on the front, but did you know the building on the back is the Lincoln Memorial dedicated to him? And, if you look very closely at it, you can see a tiny Lincoln standing in between in columns, just where the statue of Lincoln sits in the real memorial in Washington DC.

No kidding! Take a look! It's a little spooky.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pumpkin Dump Cake

This is another dessert that doesn't look or sound like it would be appealing, but it is yummy.

1 29 ounce can of pumpkin puree or two 12-15 ounce cans
3 eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 12 fluid ounce can evaporated milk or two 5 ounce cans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package spice cake mix
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin puree, eggs, brown sugar, white sugar and milk. Stir in cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix evenly over the pumpkin filling. Sprinkle pecans over the cake mix. Drizzle melted butter over all.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool. Serve with cool whip.

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is a video of Norah "reading" our Advent Book on Christmas morning.

Starting December 1, we open a new door in the book every night leading up to Christmas morning when we read what is behind the last door, so Norah had most of the Christmas story memorized by then and would always insist on "reading" the parts she could.

In the process, she mumbles some, gets a few of the big words wrong and I am sure the footage could be tedious to viewers in places, but of course, every second of it is precious to us. My favorite parts are when she puts her finger up to get me to shut up (I am sure she learned this gesture from me anyway) and I laugh when she says "apembly of angels" instead of "assembly."

We'd like to say a special thanks to Dwayne's mom, Grandma Karen, for giving us this book years ago. It has become a family treasure and tradition.
We got this recipe from a waitress at a certain Greek restaurant in downtown Summerville, SC (which shall remain nameless). It was one of our favorite places to eat when we lived in SC. But, we noticed that after that waitress gave us the recipe, we never saw her again... We think maybe they offed her cause she gave up their secret brew. So, if I am gone in a week, you'll know why.

Spiced Tea

Brew a pitcher of tea as usual, but instead of using four bags of regular tea, use two bags of regular tea, one bag of cinnamon tea and one bag of orange spice tea. Sweeten as desired. Serve with ice. You can brew more tea at once, but keep the proportions of flavor 2:1:1.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm afraid this picture won't do these bad boys justice. I think these cookies taste so good, even though the photo may inspire some doubt. They're called No Bake Coco Cookies and really, they are shamefully easy to make.

My mom made these when I was in elementary school, but when I asked her for the recipe after I got married and became more interested in baking, she didn't know what cookies I was even referring to. I described the cookies for my brother and sister who both said they remembered them, so I knew I wasn't mistaken about my memories. So, my mom had just somehow forgotten that she made these at all and the recipe was lost to me for a while.

But, a few years ago, I was visiting a friend and she happened to make some of the same cookies for her kids that day. (That's what I call a divine appointment). She told me what they were called, so I could find the recipe on line for myself. And, since my brother is here, I thought I'd make them. They're way too unhealthy to eat in great amounts, so we bagged up a dozen and shared them with our neighbors across the street with a picture Norah drew for them.

No Bake Coco Cookies

In a medium sized saucepan mix:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
Bring to a boil and cook at a rolling boil for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and mix in:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups quick rolled oats

Immediately spoon mixture out onto wax paper in tablespoon- sized portions. Give them about 30 minutes or an hour to dry. Store in an air tight container.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My brother Donnie is here visiting. He's a truck driver and had a delivery up this way, so it was easy enough for him to stop by. While we were preparing the guest bed for "Uncle Donnie," Dwayne asked Norah, "Do you know what an uncle is?" Norah's answer made us laugh, "It's an old person who lives far away... who is a boy." My brother likes hearty meals, so I made pork and beans (using part of the ham we had left over after Christmas) and cornbread. We all played UNO while dinner was simmering. Norah got this neat little card holder, so she was able to play right along with us. Without this, she usually has to lay her cards out on the table for everyone to see.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Norah's game Perfection proved to be less than perfect. I guess we got a dud, because the timer kept sticking and we kept having to threaten Norah since she was beating the thing out of frustration to get it to start ticking again. So, we decided to just take it back to the toy store and we got Fix the Mix! instead. It's awesome! I also finally found a pack of UNO cards that don't have Hannah Montana or Elmo on them, so we got those, too. We played a game of it while we were waiting on lunch earlier today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dwayne pointed this out to me earlier today. It's a page torn from one of Norah's princess coloring books and it is hanging in her new bedroom (whose walls haven't been painted pink yet).

He said, "Did you notice? Norah's got her first pin up."

I hadn't noticed and honestly, I am not even sure how long I've overlooked this! I find so many things about this hilarious.

First, she chose this picture from the rest and hung this up on her own, like older girls will do with magazine pictures of Zac Efron or something. She has no older sister to model this kind of behavior. I have framed photos of her dad on my bed side table and dresser, but that is the closest thing of this kind that she's ever even seen... besides that scene from The Little Mermaid of Ariel with Eric's statue. That could explain it!

Next, Norah hung this so high up on her wall that when I saw it, I assumed her dad had helped her put it there, at her request, and that is how he knew about it. But, when he said he hadn't, I realized she must have stood on a chair to get it up that high. We usually keep a chair at the end of the hallway for "time out," so she must have dragged that chair all the way into her bedroom, going to all the trouble of standing up and balancing on it to hang this herself.

Also, Norah has no access to scotch tape at all, so she must have gotten a hold of some of mine from our office supplies and taped this to the wall and put the tape back before I even noticed what she was doing. This makes me wonder where I was at the time? What was I doing? I am always with her...

Finally, and this may be the funniest part to me, it is obvious that I've tried to throw it away at least once, since it looks like the page has been crumpled up and/or taped back together. Norah was determined enough to take it out of the trash (or trash pile I make as I am working) and do her best to restore it, knowing that if she made me aware of what she was doing at any point in the process, the picture would probably be gone by now.

I asked Norah, "Why did you hang that picture up in your room?"

I was trying to be all nonchalant about it so she'd give me a straight answer.

She said, "Oh. I just like it cause it reminds me of Eric."

That's when my mouth hit the floor. What?!

Later, at dinner, Norah said out of the blue, "Mom. Ariel isn't real, you know."

I thought about this and said, "Yes... But Eric isn't real either."

To this, she said, "Yes he is!"

So, I realize now she has been listening to the things I've said about Eric being married to Ariel and she's worked out a way to make her (pretend) relationship with him much more appropriate. Since Ariel doesn't really exist, she's free to pursue Eric. Brilliant!

Just when I think Norah has done all she can to amaze me, she never fails to up her game. There is no way I am going to be able to raise this kid without divine intervention.

After french toast with maple syrup and powdered sugar, we read our Advent book and the Scriptures for Christmas morning. (With a second glance, I noticed all the tissues in the background of the first picture and this makes me chuckle. Those background details will be heartwarming evidence to me in years to come that all of us were tenderhearted about Christ. We are all criers, though I do it more than anyone in my family, especially since I am pregnant.)

Then we opened gifts. You can see above that Norah's Barbie got a wedding dress and we've been enjoying hiding and using the wand to find our monkey. We also played or took turns with Norah's games: Match Up!, Perfection, The Ladybug Game and Hyper Jump. I'd recommend any of these for other kids Norah's age. I also got Gun Slingers for Dwayne, just for the fun of it, so we all played that, too, and got laughs from the sound effects (western showdown music and amigos with accents) and we laughed at the fact that Norah did better than me on her first try. She took no aim nor showed any mercy, just unloaded her pistol on the bandits.

Later, we baked the ham we were sent from Dwayne's boss, a traditional green bean casserole and homemade mac and cheese. The ham was so good, Dwayne said, "I'd be plugged back into the Matrix for this!" and he was right. I've never tasted anything so good. We cut it up and I froze at least six quart sized bags of pieces to use in soups and beans later this winter.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

After church, dinner, It's a Wonderful Life and our Advent readings, we opened our Christmas pajamas. We all snuggled in our big bed to read the last portion of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Dwayne and Norah are already sleeping, but I can't.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Late in the day, I dropped Norah off to Dwayne as he was leaving work and met up with two of my good friends for dinner and a movie. We saw Four Christmases. It was crude in places, unnecessarily so, and I wouldn't recommend that anyone else pay to see it in the theater. It didn't keep me in stitches, but there were two scenes that are still making me chuckle.

Spoiler Warning: What comes next may ruin some of the scenes to any of you who want to see the movie with fresh eyes.

For me, the first really funny scene is when Reese's character realizes that her best friend in high school was, most likely, a lesbian. She is trying to argue that this wasn't true, but what she says in defense of her point just brings to light what should have been obvious to her all along and her voice trails off as she comes to the realization... I think this was a great bit of acting on her part.

I liked it so much because I can't tell you how often this happens to me and how many of those times Dwayne has been there to watch me realize what has been obvious to everyone else for so long. The most recent case in point: I've seen the movie The Color Purple about a million times, really, a million. But, I watched it again a few weeks ago and only just realized that Celie and and Shug Avery had an affair. If you've seen this movie, you are probably wondering how I could have missed that. I'm shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head, too. I don't know, but I miss these kinds of things a lot and I felt like that scene in Four Christmases gave me permission to laugh at myself.

Another scene I liked, probably my favorite in the entire movie, is when the characters are all playing Taboo and Vince's character's brother and his wife plow through about a dozen cards in one turn, getting every one of them right. She is asking the questions, he answers her without any hesitation and the exchange goes something like this:

"This is on the nightstand next to your bed..."
"A sock."

"This is the only man I am ever allowed to cheat on you with..."
"John Grisham."

I related to this scene, too. First, I am crazy about party games, especially Taboo. I become very competitive and focused, just like the redneck wife in this scene. And, if Dwayne and I are ever partnered together, we usually wipe the floor with other teams because we have a language of our own that has come from our countless (and admittedly often pointless) conversations that last late into the night. But, in the context of party games, marriage can give a team a shameful advantage. I love that.

And, since I have to find morals to every storyline, even the ones starring Vince Vaughn, I did come up with some for this movie. And, this is my blog, so I can subject you to them here:

I think the movie shows that healthy relationships have to be able to go anywhere, quite literally. Your "perfect" relationship may work in the city, but it really should to be able to translate to any place on the map. Relationships have to grow through every season of life. You won't be young together forever, your priorities may shift, etc. Which leads, naturally, to my last point. The people in lasting relationships change along with each other and this happens again and again and again...

"On Christmas Eve, the mall is a sea of men in flannel."

-Dwayne, defending himself after I accused him of being the only husband who waits till the eleventh hour to purchase gifts for his wife.

Norah likes to find hiding places in the racks or on the shelves as I shop.

I am still recovering from yesterday. Norah and I spent almost the entire day at Cabela's getting Dwayne's Christmas gifts. The store is huge and I move slow right now.

And, there's no reason why I can't post that here, since Dwayne knows exactly where we were and exactly what we were doing there. Norah loves that store, maybe even more than her dad does, so I knew she wouldn't be able to keep where we went a secret. He told me what she said when he asked her where she'd been. She said to him, "I'll give you a hint... It starts with a C." But, I also know Norah doesn't actually pay attention to the specific things I put in the cart, so for this year, at least, she won't be able to spoil his Christmas surprises completely.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It snowed again. Most of the day, we stayed huddled inside watching the snow pile even higher and the icicles drip longer and longer. After Dwayne was done throwing all the newly fallen snow, we visited our neighbors across the street who gave us homemade bread, their annual tradition. Then, we took the five minute drive to the coffee shop. Dwayne got a "medium coffee, cream and four Splenda," his reward for all that work in the cold. On the way home, we stopped at the big hill and took Norah sliding again. The snow was packed perfectly, the sunset was stunning, it reflected pretty colors off the white ground. All was quiet, expect for other families laughing as they went speeding down the slope and faint Christmas carols coming from a home somewhere down the street. Once it was dark, we came home for hot chocolate and homemade cookies.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some pictures of Norah at the bottom of the big hill, coming back up and the Jeep, after a drive to the grocery stores. I love my Jeep this time of year. We affectionately call her "Libby."

Our princess practices phonics.

When Norah dresses up and plays pretend, she always marries Eric, Ariel's fellow. I haven't been able to convince her that it isn't right to go after someone else's man. Details... you know.

When I told her it was time to practice phonics, she said, "I have some time, but they're almost done decorating... (for the ceremony)"

Norah's doodle of me, her and our chihuahua (even though we don't have one). You can see baby Avril in my belly if you look closely. I thought the circles that Norah drew on her chest were boobs, but she clarified this for me after I got up the courage to ask. "Mom! They're my bathing suit straps!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

I was on the phone on hold this morning and still had a mess or rather, several messes on the kitchen table, so I started going through everything while waiting...

I made a pile of things to throw away. At first, I put this picture of Norah's in it. (I know! It's shameful! But, I do sneak Norah's pictures into the trash can. There's a verse in the Bible somewhere that says if all the things Christ had done in His life were written down, there wouldn't be room on the planet for the pages... This is also true for Norah's doodles. There is no way our home could contain them. She alone is the reason for deforestation.)

Anyway, later, I happened to look closer as I was on the way to crumple this picture up and realized Norah had obviously drawn a Christmas tree! When I asked her about it, she said with the same tone of a young business professional holding her day planner, "Yeah. But, I can't put all the ornaments on it in one day... I'll do that tomorrow."

I can't help myself. I love this kid, watch her, cheer for her, like some people follow the pursuits of their favorite sport's team. She's my passion! This post (and so many like it) is a celebration of her and the joys I receive from being her biggest fan.

"That's a double right, Mom."

-Norah's way of giving me two thumbs up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Norah made a marshmallow igloo today.

These little projects not only help her problem-solve and practice coordination, they also allow her to process and retain the information she's heard about igloos and Eskimos so far. She even reminded me to help her leave a little hole in the top "to let out the stale air," something she was told the Eskimos will do periodically.

Marshmallow Igloo


Hot Glue Sticks and Gun
Liquid Glue
Small Sponge
Shallow Lid or Bowl
Two or three cups of miniature marshmallows
Small Styrofoam Cup
Paper Plate
Cotton Balls
Damp Paper Towel- To clean messes and sticky fingers as you go.

Cut an inch or two off the rim of a small Styrofoam cup, turn it over and hot glue this shallow bottom of the cup to a paper plate. (Norah picked a pink plate left over from her birthday party.)

Fill the lid or bowl with liquid glue and use the sponge to "paint" the outside of the cup with glue. This extra layer of glue helps the marshmallows stick to the sides of the cup, making the whole thing more likely to stay up.

Shape a door for the igloo out of five marshmallows. Stack two on top of each other, leave a space, stack another other two and then use one marshmallow to "bridge" the stacks in the middle. Dip the marshmallows into the liquid glue as needed. Allow the door to set while your child stacks the marshmallows around the cup, layer by layer.

When you have worked your way up the cup to do the roof, just use the sponge to dab on more glue and place the marshmallows in a small circle on the top of the cup. Then, you'll need to add one more layer of marshmallows around the top of igloo, to cover the uppermost edge of the cup.

Next, use another five marshmallows to make another door right in front of the first one. This will give the traditional appearance of a narrow, curved entrance to the igloo.

Use the sponge to spread glue on the plate. Tear up cotton balls and press them on the plate to make it appear like there is snow on the ground around the igloo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You learn something new everyday.

We got another gift package in the mail from Dwayne's company. This one included a huge picnic basket from Virgina holding a ham that barely fits into our fridge and further down in the box were two slabs of bacon, a block of cheddar cheese and a literal keg of maple syrup.

So, now my kitchen actually does resemble the attic in Little House in the Big Woods. (See blog entry for October 1).

Tonight, we had our first experiences with slab bacon.

We thought for sure that what just appeared to be one huge chuck of meat was really just a tall stack of thinner slices. We said things like, "The slices must be wrapped so tightly that we just can't see the lines between them, etc. etc." as we squinted and looked at the hunk of meat in the package. Oh, we were so naive.

It was, quite literally, a solid slab of bacon. You could almost picture where it was on the hog's back, originally. We did our best to cut it without using a wood ax from the garage, but it ended up looking more like strips of country ham than the almost transparently thin slices of bacon we get from the grocer's.

Dwayne joked that “This must be how the other half lives.” And, we really did feel like bumpkins, especially after we read that we were supposed to remove the rind before cooking... Yeah. We found that out only after dinner, when we looked up recipes to use for the other slab sitting in our fridge. That was about the time that our stomachs started to turn.

But, ignorance is bliss. The meat tasted so good, it was nearly sinful. I mean, this must be what the pagan temples were frying up back in the day and why some folks' consciences wouldn't allow them to even eat meat. To own the truth, I enjoy my freedoms in Christ as much as the next believer, but I'm not sure I can proceed to eat the other slab with any faith at all!
I'm listening to: Norah's lesson over my shoulder. With her teacher's guidance, she's using a ruler to measure objects by the inch.

I'm wearing: My sweaty exercise clothes. I subbed for another instructor's Senior Aerobics and Stretch classes this morning while Norah played with lots of other kids in the babysitting room at the gym.

I'm looking at: A sink full of dishes, a kitchen table covered with projects...

I can't get enough: Grapefruit sprinkled with Splenda

I can't bring myself to: Drink water. It makes me nauseous.

I need to: Get up and off the computer, shower, straighten up my kitchen, plan dinner, start a load of laundry, guide Norah through her phonics pages for today, take a trip to the library for several children's nonfiction and picture books to compliment Norah's unit on the Arctic and Eskimos, cut out more math manipulatives from craft foam...

Here's hoping: I can have time and creativity enough to design stage one warm up exercises to go along with Norah's art lessons from Drawing with Children

In my dreams: I'll get a nap. I didn't sleep at all last night.

What's looming: Our Christmas greetings need to go out. Norah's old bedroom needs to be cleaned out. I have to sort through piles of old clothes and toys, organize, save, store and/or get rid of things to make room for Avril.

I am thankful for: The extra money I made at work today. Our health. No errands to take us away from home tomorrow. We can stay inside out of the cold and get a lot done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Norah's newest thing is to "read" the back of her cereal box in the morning. I never suggested she do this, so I think it's just great that she asked on her own. She said, while still chewing, "Ma... Can you pass that box to me...I wanna to read the back..." It may be silly of me, but I was so taken back by this that I took a photo while she was counting how many toasts were on the illustration. I didn't really think about it again till I looked over yesterday morning and saw her dad kind of hunched down, reading the back of his box while eating his cereal!

I really cherish the things I've seen Norah begin to do that are so common to humanity. To me, it's a privilege and a joy to have a front row seat to the little and often impolite things she does that just come natural to everybody: like leaning to one side to pass gas, for example, or licking her fingers after eating Cheetos or slurping the sugary milk left in her cereal bowl... it is fun to watch her grow up and of course, I realize it is my job to teach her (after laughing a little) that some of those things are considered rude in good company.

Norah's monster.

This is a photo of Norah with our Mayor Jarjura taken at our neighborhood's Christmas party. Her dad and I think it is unfortunate but also pretty humorous that she is making that gesture with her right hand. Norah has ruined a number of pictures this way. She really has no idea.

Folks in the northeast may appreciate this one.

Norah told her dad, "Mattresses last forever."

When Dwayne asked her why she thought this, she quoted a Sleepy's television commercial:

"Cause you can 'Trust Sleepy's... for the rest of your life.' "

Norah made this simple nativity scene during one of her lessons. Your kids could do the same thing with images you find online. Find, print, let your kids color them and cut them out, etc. Mount them to card stock and cut a slit in the bottom for the bases, also made of card stock.
"Mom! Look! An activity set!"
- What Norah says when we pass a church with a nativity set out front.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'd like to recommend (to those of you who don't already know about it) what I think must be one of the best Christmas albums ever written: Dreaming of a Holy Night. The songs on this album are all original. Graham Kendrick is the same singer/songwriter who wrote songs like "Shine Jesus Shine" and "Knowing You" and all the songs on this album meet that standard easily.

Not that I know him in the least, but he knows our head pastor very well, so he worked with the worship leaders at our church and created a Christmas musical using these songs last year. I imagine that some, if not most of the songs on this album will be accepted Christmas classics in one hundred years.

My favorite song on the album is What's to be Done About Mary? You can find the lyrics to that song and hear at least a sample of all the songs on the album online. I think that song, in particular, sheds light on how Mary's pregnancy would or rather would not have been accepted by most of her family and friends. It breaks my heart, but the song shows me that it is more realistic to understand that Christ was born without the all honor He deserved.

I overheard a fraction of a conversation Norah was having with one of her toys in the Jeep. She was saying, "We believe...d in Santa... the other day."

I got a kick out of the fact that Norah changed verb tense in mid sentence. And, right when I thought she was done speaking entirely, she added, "...the other day." That's when her voice trailed off and that's when I broke into spontaneous laughter.

The picture above was taken at our neighborhood's Christmas party. (See the blog entry for December 7 for further explanation.) You can see Norah in the bottom right hand corner of the photo listening to Santa tell the story "The Night Before Christmas."

We're Christians, so we focus on Christ at Christmas. Go figure. But, we didn't foresee the problems this would cause any child, like Norah, with any set of parents, like us, who live somewhere within, say, the continental United States.

I really don't question parents who include Santa in their holiday celebrations. I don't feel contempt for them and I am not righteous about our sincere attempts to keep Christmas sacred. While I do think Santa is a distraction, I don't treat him like I would if the letters in his name were rearranged and he were holding a pitch fork rather a bag of toys.

Many of my closest friends tell their children Santa brings the toys. Who cares?! I am just venting about how inconvenient it has been for our family because we decided not to. Many people are polite to us, but I have come to resent the others who get terrified and almost step back in horror because our daughter isn't excited about Santa. She loves him like she would Barney. He's big and soft and friendly, but no one ever expects her to believe Barney is real.

She sees Santa as if he didn't have a bag... and to her, he doesn't. He really would have no love from anyone without the bag. No child in their right minds would ever welcome a fat man in a funny red costume to break into their homes while they slept if he wasn't bringing them Ipods and Hotwheels. So, I wish no one would ever pity our daughter. She has plenty of the same superficial, materialistic, fleeting joy other kids have on Christmas morning. She just gives us the thanks... or criticism when she is done opening her gifts.

But, one of the things we said to coach Norah not to question Santa's authenticity in front of the other kids at the party that night was, "Tonight, we believe in Santa."

I guess that worked. Now, she'll have some vague memory and slight confusion about a time when she and her parents did believe in Santa, but then, they didn't all of a sudden...

I think that's great. Just great.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The same truth holds for government and ladies' cosmetics;
less is more.

-Original by me.

Norah's sitting on her dad's lap while we read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sometime after the election, I read the quote on the bottom of the photo above. Immediately, an image of the crowd at Grant Park came to my mind.

Norah and I came home from the gym tonight (I teach water aerobics on Thursdays) to find Dwayne watching I Robot. I watched the rest of the movie with him and was struck by how often the lead character's attitude is similar to my own in today's political climate.

If you want to know how many political conservatives feel when some of today's leading democrats speak, watch the movie again. Will Smith's character is a good picture of a real conservative's doubt and suspicion.

While government leaders seem so eager to begin legislating for the people's good, I fear the outcome of so many new laws will result in so much less liberty that America will become unrecognizable and uncomfortable for all of us, even for those who support the leading party's agenda currently.

But, I am sober for now and sincerely hope I am proven wrong.

This makes a very tasty, cheap and easy dinner. It is one of those things you can make when you have hardly anything but staples left in the kitchen cabinet.

Potato Parmesan Soup

4 Potatoes
1 Small Chopped Onion
1/2 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Tsp. Salt
1/2 Tsp. Basil
1/4 Tsp. Sage
1/4 Tsp. Dried Celery Leaves
1/4 Tsp. Onion Powder
1/4 Tsp. Black Pepper
1/4 Tsp. Thyme
4 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
4 1/2 Cups Milk
1 Cup Shredded or Grated Parmesan

Clean, chop and cook potatoes in boiling water till tender. I leave the skins on. Leave them in chunks or mash them to a consistency you like. Last night, I used left over mashed potatoes. I made enough to serve with dinner on a previous night and saved the rest in the fridge to use in this soup.

In a bottom of a kettle, melt butter and saute onions on low to medium heat until they are tender. In the meantime, mix flour and spices in a bowl. Once onions are done, stir in the flour and spice mixture. Gradually add the broth, stirring constantly. Allow this to boil and cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes.

Stir in the potatoes next and allow the mixture to return to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover and let this simmer for ten minutes.

Finally, add the milk and cheese. Let the soup heat through again and serve it with saltines.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Norah has been asking a lot of questions this winter, wondering where all the animals have gone. So, she and I are reading through a kid's book called Animals that Hibernate by Larry Dane Brimner. I found yesterday's portion about groundhogs fascinating and even encouraging.

“A female (groundhog) is a loving parent, but a strict one. A mother often 'drills' her youngsters. Pretending to spot danger, she'll give a false alarm to make certain her pups know what to do in an emergency. A wise pup scampers into the burrow where it is relatively safe from enemies. Any pup remaining above ground is given a gentle nip. It doesn't take long for the youngsters to learn the habit of going underground when danger is present.”

Recently, I have been growing more concerned that Norah be able to respond to an emergency, especially a situation which may cause me to be incapacitated. I've always been concerned about this, but she was too young before now and there was very little I could do to equip her to act for herself. However, she's becoming more capable of making decisions and doing basic things like making phone calls, giving rescue persons her name and address, helping them through our door, etc. At this point, it is just a matter of me helping her prepare.

I've been teaching her how to use my cell phone, which can be challenging for me at times, so I realize it must be overwhelming to a four year old. I let her dial the number for Grandma's house and talk without stepping in to the conversation for a few minutes. This way, she will be more comfortable and practiced if she ever needs to make calls on her own.

We've also been discussing what to do if there is a fire in our home, etc. We talk about our meeting place outside and discuss neighbors who would be helpful if she were left all alone. We've made it a point of befriending the people who live around us, as far as it has been within our power. These friendships will make it easier for her to appeal to them for help and knowing their character, makes me more comfortable encouraging Norah to get them involved if it ever becomes necessary.

Another thing I have felt important to teach her is how to respond if someone ever tries to take advantage of her and touch her in private places. This could have been uncomfortable, but I've simply waited till subjects have come up during bath time, doctor's visits, etc. Though I try and instill in her a respect for authority, I never want her to feel like she can't stand up to any adult or older kid who is trying to intimidate her and force her to cooperate when it is inappropriate. I believe God gave us the right to protect ourselves and I'd never want her to suppress that good and natural instinct to flee or fight out of fear of punishment.

I was also humored by the fact that the groundhog nips her cubs if they don't do what she's expecting of them. I also take it very seriously if Norah doesn't respond quickly enough to my warnings near the road in front of our house, in parking lots or on busy sidewalks. Some parents may think I overreact, since there may not have been any danger when she ran out into the street this time, but what goes on in the back of my mind is what could have happened. That is what I feel like I am supposed to prepare Norah for, for the one time when listening to me say “Stop!” could save her life.

Modern parenting strategies seem to promote the idea that it's inappropriate for moms to discipline their youngest children when they don't cooperate, since they are too little to understand dangers around them. So, it seems like the poor parents who go along with this thinking are somehow expected to be super human, allowing kids to go their own way, while somehow also preventing every possible emergency and rescuing their kids before they are ever harmed. This makes no good sense to me. Why would I let Norah run by a swimming pool just because I am nearby, for example? Should I let her play by my hot stove just because I am standing at the kitchen counter? Kids should listen, even when they don't understand everything. I think it's okay, through the earliest years, if they listen just to avoid their mom's "gentle nips."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A place for everything and everything in its place.

I cleaned out and organized my kitchen cabinets and drawers. This isn't something I feel compelled to do on a regular basis, but right now, I'm pregnant and I know from experience that makes me a little insane, so I am giving myself grace and going with all these motivations. Really, when's the next time I'll feel the need to get down and scrub the floor behind our stove?

And, with all this organizing, I've noticed that I tend to collect things and these things are really starting to add up. I am a little insecure about admitting this, but I wonder if other moms, homeschooling or not, also feel the need to save things "just in case."

Jars and their lids
We need several of these every spring and summer for the bugs and caterpillars.

Plastic Shopping Bags
I use these around the house for obvious reasons, like bathroom trash. But, once a year, I also stuff as many as I can into the Christmas box we send our good friends and their kids who live out of state. She uses the bags for regular kitchen trash and once told me, "I never have enough of those." Ever since, I've used them as packaging around their gifts. Dwayne and I often wonder if she regrets saying this when the bags come by the hundreds every December.

Empty tubes from toilet paper and paper towel rolls
We use these for crafts. I've also heard of moms putting their little girl's hair things around the empty paper towel tubes to keep them in one place. It sounds like a great idea and I keep meaning to do that, too.

Soda Tabs
Every summer, I give them to Dwayne's mom when she and his dad visit. She takes them back to Florida and gives them to a little girl at her church, who will take them and turn them in for money that she'll then donate to charity. Dwayne thinks his mom and I are both crazy for this, but we both hope the little girl gets a kick out of it. But, it is likely that the little girl just thinks we're crazy, too.

Plastic Lids and Beer Bottle Caps
They are all round, but they come in different sizes and colors and make great math manipulatives for older children who can use them for exercises in counting, sorting, patterns and matching.

Tiny plastic containers and their lids
I save the little containers we get when we buy those bouncy balls or ugly plastic spiders for Norah from the gumball-type machines at the front of supermarkets. And, I'll save the containers and lids left over once we use up all our craft glitter or kitchen spices, when our store bought play dough gets gross, or when we use all the pills in the Tylenol bottle, etc.

Egg Cartons
I'll often cut up the cardboard cartons and use them to hold craft paint. It's easy enough to just throw the used sections out when I am cleaning up after one of Norah's art projects.
With foam egg cartons, I'll cut around the two indentions in the top of the carton and save these little "traffic cones." Norah uses them with her toy cars or as the base for paper puppet she makes out of card stock, so the figurines will stand on their own. I'll also cut the twelve foam cups apart and store them stacked together in a gallon zip lock. Norah likes to use the separate egg sections for counting or to make the shapes of letters and numbers on the floor, etc.

Tissue Paper
I reuse colored tissue paper when wrapping birthday gifts or let Norah cut it up for various crafts like decoupage.'

Box Tops for Education
I don't have any official place to donate them, because Norah doesn't go to school anywhere. But, I collect them anyway. I've heard that home school cooperative groups will use them, so if we ever become involved in a group like that, I'll pass them along then.

We have hundreds of buttons. Most have come one or two at a time with the purchase of new pants, jackets or shirts. But, right now, I am cutting up Dwayne's old plaid shirts to use in a quilt, so from each of those, I'll get ten to twelve more. Norah just loves playing with buttons and her home school lessons often require ten or more at a time for math exercises or one or two for educational game pieces.

Tiny Ziplocks
These are the little bags that hold the aforementioned extra buttons attached to new clothes. I think I must have fifty of these. They're just so cute.

Various "Doodads"
A wine bottle cork that I imagine I will need for a science demonstration one day, little metal springs of different sizes from the insides of broken ink pens, key rings, glass marbles, safety pins...

Natural Objects
Norah has collected a feather, an acorn and a pine cone, so far.

We'll bring home rocks from hikes or vacations that have cool shapes, colors or textures.

Sea Shells
Shells we collect from our trips to the beach.

Plastic Cups
The kind you get with kids meals at formal restaurants. Norah has never really been interested in bath toys, but we have a tower of about thirty plastic cups on the side of the tub and she plays with every one of them at every bath.

For collages. We store them in a huge Tupperware in the laundry/ storage room downstairs. Norah likes to cut and paste. I've given her a letter and she has a good time finding pictures that start with that sound.

You wouldn't believe how often Norah's curriculum calls for things like the ones I've listed above. One time, I needed an empty pill bottle, of all things, to make a music shaker. So, now I save pill bottles, too. The other day, I needed a lid, but it had to be a certain size and depth once turned over, so it would hold a puddle of liquid glue and a certain sized sponge. As much as I love Bob Jones K4, some of the things they ask moms to produce or collect so kids can do every activity in the lessons drive me crazy. But, I have learned how to improvise, which I think is good. I have to think much harder before I throw any little thing away these days. I am sure these collections of mine and the satisfaction I get from seeing them grow also point to something that was lacking in my childhood. Don't they always?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The newspaper I work for published an article in this month's edition that included answers given by little kids to the question, "What does love mean?"

Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs.
-Chrissy, Age 6

This made me think about something that happened early in my marriage. Dwayne and I laugh about this like it was yesterday.

I always order first. We happened to be at Wendy's this time. I told the lady I wanted a "number 1 with cheese and a diet soda" and then I had the fries and drink up-sized. Then I turned to Dwayne who was listening to what I said, looking up at the menu and waiting to order for himself. I don't remember what sandwich he wanted that day, but he didn't order fries to go with it. I noticed this, but I didn't think anything more about it. I just assumed he didn't want any fries.

I got napkins and straws and was going back to get ketchup, but I saw that Dwayne was already bringing it to the table. He'd gotten three little cups full. Three... and he didn't even order fries... I thought to myself that in the short time we'd known each other, he must have noticed that when I ordered that many fries at dinner, I usually ended up needing just a bit more ketchup to finish them (I usually fill two containers to begin with). I always had to get up before I was done to fill another container. He was heading that off for me. How thoughtful. I think I probably smiled at him adoringly then and he probably smiled back the same.

We must have sat down at our table with the food, probably prayed and then started eating. We were having some conversation. I love talking to him, even still. He took one fry. I noticed this, but was happy to share with him. I know how it can be to sit in front of french fries and not have any. We kept talking. A second later, he took three fries. (I know now that this is how Dwayne often eats fries, three at a time. We'd only just gotten married and we have never been accused of having a long engagement, so I was still learning things about him and he was still learning me.) I was confused about those three fries, but I still didn't say anything. I must have answered his conversation with more of my own. By the time another minute had passed, he must have had another bite or two or three with a few fries each time.

That must have been when I said something. I don't remember what I said, but I think my motive was to clarify what was going on with the fries. But, what I said and what he said next must have been enough to start one of our first big fights.

He proceeded to tell me he had considered getting his own fries when he ordered, but was sure that I would be willing to share because I had ordered so many. I was affronted by this, I am sure. I told him that he was very mistaken, that I'd ordered so many fries because I like fries... a lot.

This argument went on for a while. I don't remember exact words, only impressions. He was trying to reason with me and show me the error of my ways. I think he brought up the trouble mankind has with vices like greediness and gluttony and he probably used the fact that at that point in our young lives, I had most likely asked him if I "looked fat" before we had left home that day or at least, the day before. And, I had probably also mumbled something very recently about not wanting to gain weight. He was just reminding me. Such were my primary concerns back then and he cared about what I cared about. I must have argued back and tried to convinced him of his errors of presumption and rudeness and mentioned how comments like that could ruin marital intimacy, probably through my tears. I am sure anyone sitting near us worried about our future.

We've been married nearly eight years now and it must go without saying that we know each other much better. How does that coveted understanding work out practically? Dwayne would never assume that he could share my fries, no matter how big the order may be. And, I will often ask, when I don't feel like having many fries, whether or not he wants me to order a larger size and share them with him, so we can save a little money. That is usually when our eyes flash with something like a secret understanding and intimacy and joy and we'll both smirk. If Norah is looking at us, she must see this, but has very little idea about what has gone before.

Marriage can be very beautiful, but it always takes effort and grace and usually only benefits from time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

We played in the snow this afternoon. There wasn't much of it, but it was perfect for building a snowman. Instead of taking the trip down the road to the big hill, I let Norah slide on the slope in our backyard, then we came inside for hot chocolate.

This is a great dish to bring to parties in the winter or to make for cookouts in the summer.

Spinach Dip


1 Cup Mayonnaise
1 Cup Sour Cream
1/2 Cup Green Onions- Chopped
1/2 Can (4 ounces) Water Chestnuts- Chopped
One Bag Frozen Spinach- Thawed, Rinsed and Drained
One Bag Vegetable Recipe/Soup Mix

Mix everything together and chill until it's time to serve. We like to eat this dip with wheat flavored Toasteds.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

We made french toast, did laundry, then went out to get the Jeep's oil changed and have it washed inside and out. Dwayne needed a haircut, so he got that done while I shopped and found the cutest snowsuit and matching jacket for Norah for only $30. It fits, but it is also big enough for her to wear again next winter. We went to another store right after that and uglier sets of snowsuits in the same brand were as much as $75. I was so happy.

Dwayne met up with us and kept Norah distracted while I found pair of festive pajamas for Norah to open and wear on Christmas Eve, another tradition we adopted from our good friends who have done it their whole lives. And, I found a set of three Christmas ornament/picture frames on sale. I have given Norah an ornament for every Christmas she's been alive, so I hope this set will provide one ornament for the next three years, if only I can keep them hidden from Norah, tucked away with the decorations in the attic or something. It looks like my Christmas shopping for Norah is basically done now.

When we got home, we found a large orange box from Hale Groves on our porch. Every December, Dwayne's boss sends his employees oranges and grapefruit. It is something we have come to look forward to, so much so, that I don't even buy citrus in December because of it. We shared a huge orange that fed all three of us before we got started with work around the house.

Dwayne has pulled the snow blower into the driveway and is planning to change its oil. I admire him to no end, since it seems like there is nothing he doesn't know how to maintain or fix. He had to go to the store for supplies, so he took Norah with him. (I really have no idea what to do with any free time I am granted these days and I don't like matching socks, so I am blogging, again.) We got our snow blower used for $100 two winter's ago, when a coworker of Dwayne's bought a bigger, fancier one. It is older than either of us, but it works fine and Dwayne's seems to maintain it as much as he would any new machine. I think it just proves that products you buy in today's marketplace often aren't built to last as long as they once were.

There's a good chance it will snow tonight, so it looks like we found Norah's snowsuit in perfect time. Maybe we'll be able to take her sledding down the hill by our reservoir tomorrow. I just wonder if my own ski pants will fit over my growing belly or whether I'll feel comfortable sledding myself much at all this winter.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Norah's dancing to Christmas music, now looking at library books, now keeping the beat with a kitchen spoon and paint stick on her school table, now playing under a makeshift tent with her marbles... Dwayne's working on his laptop. All my housework is done save a basket of socks to be matched, so I'd rather be blogging, even for the second time today, even if it makes me a looser.
I popped corn on the stove while dinner was in the oven and let it cool while we ate. After we cleaned up, we strung it and hung it on our littlest tree, the one with colored lights and candy canes, the one that I paid $15 dollars for six years ago when I was an underpaid professional educator, the tree I have dubbed "My Concession," where I will always gladly hang any ornament Norah brings home that she made out of too much paste, too few popsicle sticks and too little rickrack. This second tree allows me to be much more territorial about our larger, formal tree. It has become absolutely indispensable to me.
I had never strung popcorn, so I watched a how-to video a few days ago to get some guidance. I wasn't planning to string any raisins or cheerios, just popcorn, but Norah kept crushing every piece of popcorn she tried to string, so her strand became a combination of a few inches of popcorn (done quickly by me while Norah ate some of the decorations), then a few inches of raisins and cheerios done by her, then more popcorn done by me...
We used quilting thread and needles, the kind that are about three inches long, dull and thick enough to sew a wounded horse's hide shut. They worked well, since Norah is so young and inexperienced with needles.
Norah made this Bagel Bird Feeder during her home school lessons today. We didn't have any birdseed, so instead of taking a trip to the store just to buy some, I collected things I happened to have in the kitchen: almonds, raisins and sunflower seeds. The only problem with sticking items we actually eat to the bagel: Norah thought she was making herself a snack and had a real problem when I told her we were going to hang it to the tree for the birds, even though her DVD teacher also made it very clear she'd be making a bird feeder. You would think I don't feed her well enough, the way Norah carried on. But, I bargained with her. She got a pop tart, so the birds could have their bagel.

Bagel Bird Feeder

Peanut Butter
Bird Seed

If your bagel came sliced, don't tear the two pieces apart. Just leave the bagel whole. Thread a long piece of yarn through the bagel's hole, take the two loose ends, put them together and lay them to the side, out of the way. Let kids smear a thick layer of peanut butter on both sides of the bagel, even going over the yarn. This will be messy. Then let them pour and/or push birdseed into the layer of peanut butter, also messy. Find a tree, preferably one close to a window, so your kids can see the birds (or squirrels) eat it, and tie the two loose ends of yarn around one of the tree's branches securely.