Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mortified (Or, How to Deal With People Who Suck)

It was the day after my 12th birthday party. I was riding high from a successful slumber party and the consumption of a giant, Costco-sized tub of Laffy Taffy candy that someone had given me as a birthday present. Needless to say, I was feeling good.

My two older sisters had a marching band competition that day, so we took a family trip to the stadium to watch the proceedings. My parents were volunteering with the band, which left me in the stands to watch over my two younger sisters. I was twelve now. I could totally handle the responsibility.

We had a great time, my sisters and I. We cheered, we huddled together for warmth, we talked about how hilarious it would be to switch seats and watch how freaked out our parents would get when they came back to get us... Somehow, we made 6-straight hours of sitting on a metal bench fun.

After every few bands performed, the Powers That Be would give themselves (and, by extension, us) a break to...I don't know, do whatever marching band competition judges do when they aren't watching marching bands. Us schlubs in the stands would get up, shake it out, get something to eat. Whatever. I was twelve and had just spent all my babysitting money on cheap plastic earrings from Claire's, so, being penniless, my sisters and I generally stayed put and fidgeted during these breaks.

About halfway through the day, a longer break than usual was introduced. A couple people in the family sitting in front of us got up to do whatever people do when they aren't sitting on a cold metal bench. Seizing the opportunity to stretch out for a bit, I put my feet up on the now empty bench in front of me, not really giving it another thought.

Until the family come back.

The little girl and her father hadn't even walked all the way up to their bench yet when all of a sudden the woman sitting next to where my shoes were resting turned and poured her entire big-gulp-sized cup of ice cold Coke on my feet.

What. The. [Beeeeeep].

I was mortified. I jerked my feet away and tried to avoid my sisters' very confused, staring eyes, as they watched me to find out how exactly they should be reacting. But how was I supposed to know how to react?! I wasn't the grown-up in this situation. I was a child! An apparently rather sheltered child who had never encountered a grown-up who would pour cold soda on someone's feet for no reason. 

Her (I am assuming) husband gave her a strange look and and asked her why she just did that. She just shrugged and said, "Her feet were in [insert the name of their daughter]'s seat."

WHAT THE CRAP, WOMAN. Who does that?!

The father and daughter apparently agreed that this was an acceptable reaction to the situation, because, with not a word to me, they proceeded to take their [now Coke-covered] seats and resumed whatever it was they were doing before all this happened. I sat, face flaming, staring straight ahead, and somehow made it through the rest of the competition in one piece. With ice cold Coke soaked feet. In October.

I am thirty years old now, but the eighteen years that have passed have yet to fully erase the feelings I felt that day. Even now, as I type out what happened, so many feelings are bubbling up. Mortification. Anger. Confusion. Sorrow

Although, having grown up a bit and realized just how crazy that lady was, anger seems to be the presiding feeling today.

Are y'all asking yourselves why I would revisit this moment from my long-gone past? Well I have been thinking about it a lot lately because it was the first time I encountered what I considered to be a mean person (like I said. Sheltered child). Unfortunately for me, it was not the last time, but you know what? We can't avoid it. We can't avoid them. Sometimes people just suck and they pour Coke on kids' feet and they don't care. 

So today, I am sharing this story with you all to put it to bed. I am accepting the fact that I am going to encounter many of Coke lady's friends throughout my life and there 'aint nothin' I can do about it. Except move on. So this is me moving on.

But just so we are clear- heaven help anyone who tries to pour Coke on my or, just you dare, my child's feet. My new zen acceptance of sucky people can only stretch so far.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Six Perils of Knowing a Great Gift Giver

It sounds like a wonderful thing to have a husband that's an amazing gift giver right? Someone who is thoughtful and attentive and always on alert for gift ideas throughout the whole year? Wrong. Here are six things you have to consider when being partnered with a great gift giver.

1. You can no longer compliment anyone ever.

Do you ever give compliments just to be nice or because you like giving compliments or because there's an awkward pause in the conversation? Well I sure do. Or I used to before I wised up and realized that every time I told an old woman casually, "Oh I love your sweater!" that I would have the exact same sweater hanging in my closet the very next day. Now I can no longer offer anyone compliments unless my husband is out of the country or in a coma.

2. You can never ever mention that anything you own has been misplaced or broken.

Imagine every time you lost an earring and remarked to yourself, "hmm I guess I lost this earring" there was someone lurking around the corner making note to get you a replacement pair at the next gift giving opportunity. I even have a pair of earrings that I'm on my third set of. For someone who loses and ruins a lot of stuff that I don't necessarily want a replacement for, this has now become something I try to hide from my husband. The other night as I was hanging up laundry I foolishly said out loud to myself that my cardigan got ruined in the wash, before the words were out of my mouth my husband ran into the closet and was wrestling the cardigan out of my hands to get a look at the tag... See you soon orange cardigan...

3. You can never mention that you'd like the cheap version of something.

This year I showed my husband a picture of a necklace I wanted. I told him that there were many versions of it online, some of them cheap and some of them very expensive and real gold. I told him it was just a necklace I liked and that I didn't need an expensive one and certainly not one that was real gold.
Just take one guess of what version I got.

4. Everything you say about gift preferences/budgets/wishes will be totally ignored.

As evidenced in number three, there is no such thing as telling a great gift giver that you don't really want anything for your birthday or that you spent 30 dollars on his Christmas present so maybe he could spend about the same on yours. They are not listening. They are busy loading up their Amazon shopping cart.

5. Your gift will always suck.

This Christmas my husband got me a solid gold engraved necklace (see number three.) I got him a water-pick.

6. You can never mention that you like anything.

On our first Valentine's Day together my husband got me a houseplant instead of flowers, in response I said one sentence that I have regretted for five years now, "Oh I love getting plants instead of flowers, they live so much longer." Little did I know those words would haunt me to my grave. Every holiday I watch my sweet husband come home from work with his arms around one more giant house plant for our collection*. I would be living in a greenhouse by now if I weren't the world's worst gardener who kills each new plant within the month. And yes I have kindly said, "no more house plants please" but see number four. I also get a Willow Tree figurine with my houseplant for every holiday too because one time in passing I mentioned that I thought they were cute. Now I'm forced to tell my husband that I think everything is hideous.

*Upon doing a mental tally I realized that my husband has gotten me at least 17 houseplants over our short married time. 17!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tender Moments

On August 7th, my beloved grandmother passed away. Her death has been difficult to bear, and I've struggled to adjust to a world in which she no longer lives. However, as difficult as her passing has been, it has also been a beautiful time of reflection for me, and I've been able to spend a lot of time thinking about my beautiful grandmother, and teaching my children about her.

One of my grandma's greatest legacies is her food. There is such a rich tradition in food. Food is comforting. Food brings people together. Food marks milestones and holidays and other such celebrations. As I've spent time in the kitchen recreating a couple of her signature dishes, I've felt close to Granma (how we spell it when we are referring to her), and the emptiness I feel at her passing becomes filled somehow. Filled with gratitude, and love, and joy at her memory.

The first thing I made, was Granma's famous Peanut Butter Finger bars. This was a special treat Granma would make us for birthdays, special occasions, family parties. I followed the recipe as best as I could, but they didn't quite turn out as perfect as Granma made them.
 Then I attempted to make a traditional Ulster fry. Grandma was born in Belfast Ireland, and immigrated to the United States when she was a young wife and mother of three, bringing with her a rich, Irish and British heritage that she taught to her children and grandchildren. Granma once wrote, "America has been good to us but then we have been good to America. We always vote and have encouraged our children to vote. We have taught them to be good citizens at the same time recognizing their British culture. We feel we have done a good job." They sure did, and do. 

"Sody" bread 

"Tady" bread

Let's pretend my Ulster fry looked like this. It didn't, but it tasted good.
As I prepared the Ulster fry, I listened to traditional music, and cried, fried and cried. The tears were equal parts bitter and sweet. Her death was certainly not wanted, nor has it been easy, but there has been a lot of tender moments had by my family and I, and more than anything, I'm grateful for my Granma and the legacy she gave us.

In honor of my Granma, I wanted to share her famous Peanut Butter bars (they might as well be called Beanut Butter Bars) in her own words: 

3/4 cup marg.

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 sugar

cream together

add 1 egg

1tsp vanilla

3/4 cup p'nut butter  (I always use creamy but you can use chunky)

Then stir in:

11/2 cups oatmeal

1 cup flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

bake at 350 for 13 minutes.

As I spread the dough in the cookie sheet I do not spread it to the full extent of the pan. I make a "well" about 3/4 inch around the perimeter. This allows for expansion. This expansion happens because we use margarine. I have tried Crisco shortening which does not expand but I do not like the taste. Also, I have used the mixer to mix in the flour but decide I like the texture better with stirring the flour etc. with a wooden spoon.

When cool, spread peanut butter, a thin layer. I do it while there is still some heat in it as it will be easier to spread. :o)

When completely cold cut into bars and spread with frosting.  I will freeze it for an hour, it makes it easier to spread the frosting.

I use Betty Crocker frosting, but you can make your own:

2 cups powered sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

1stick marg.

Mix together with mixer and add milk, about 1/4 cup. Until you get the consistency you desire.

I do not put thick layers of p'nut butter and frosting. I do not like too much frosting anytime.

"I took these to work one time and upon request gave the recipe to one of my co-workers. She came back and accused me of leaving out something because hers did not taste like mine. I tried to assure her i had given her the proper recipe but she would not be pacified. So eventually I said you are right Laree, I did leave out an ingredient, Then I showed her how I licked my finger and stirred it into the mixture. LOL 
She gave up."--Bea Marsden

Friday, December 19, 2014

An Open Letter to December (Because that’s what blogs are for…)

Dear December,

Thank you for sucking less than November. November felt cold like February and hectic like September, and that just doesn’t fly with me. December, thanks for charging in like a steam-roller but going back in time and slowing down a bit -- and for being warmer (temperature-wise and sentiment-wise). I know in November we’re supposed to reflect and give thanks, but I think you, December, are a better reminder of why we should be thankful. November has Black Friday (and all of the other marketing-based theme days that follow), but by this point in mid-December, we’re all “big-deal-discount”ed out. December, you give me an excuse to do something special for my loved ones or pick up something special that makes me think of them. Things that I think they might like or could use; I like that.

It’s easy to get lost in the hustle of it all, but I love the serendipity of “I just happened to bump into this while shopping for toilet paper and it caught my eye and distracted me from actually purchasing what I intended to purchase during my trip to the store (turn around and go back again...Toilet paper canNOT be forgotten), but it was worth it because of the joy I got from thinking of you and hope you can get joy from this gift.” Or the “I’ve been researching all year and reading lots of kids’ books to try to find the perfect book for your family and I think your little one will chuckle at this silly picture book and I love giving books because it gives parents a children a special time together to bond and learn and love and maybe even build tradition.” Or the “Let’s spend some extra time together today just wasting time, but it isn't wasting time because it is making memories together” moments.

And there’s the part of December that reminds me that, even though it can be hectic cramming four family birthdays in on top of the rest of the holidays, it’s nice to have such amazing family and friends to celebrate with -- and fortunate to have the means to celebrate together. Thanks also for helping me remember moments spent with those I've lost -- Sometimes those reminders are hard, but the memories are always special and heartwarming.  December really is a time for togetherness and thankfulness and mindfulness -- and excess amounts of complex carbohydrates. (And sweatpants.)

Much love, dear December (even though I still don’t like winter),


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wish List: Picture Books

This post contains affiliate links. 

Books are one of my favorite things to give to my kids. I love adding to our steadily growing library of children's books, and bringing in books that I love just means that the chances are better that the book I'll have to read 14 times in a row is one I like. Here are a few of the books on my wish list this year, since my two year old can't make her own. Pass along your favorites in the comments!

Brontorina by James Howe. If the author's name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote classic from my childhood, Bunnicula, which I am sorry to say I have not read, but I've never forgotten the days of it floating around my elementary school. However, this book  about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina is just ridiculously charming. Plus, one of the little ballerinas shares her name with my older daughter, and I think she thinks that the ballerina is her. I don't want to take it back to the library, which I think is a sign that someone in the family should own it.

Press Here by Herve Tullet. Have you seen this book? I know it's been around for a bit, but it is seriously so clever that I can't even stand it. The way it involves the child in the book is just brilliant. Press here on this circle - oh look! Now it's two circles! Turn the book on its side - and oh, the circles have all fallen to the side of the page! I love it.

I Want My Hat Back or This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. I can't decide which of these slightly macabre books is better. My husband likes I Want My Hat Back best, and I think I am slightly more drawn to This Is Not My Hat, but both are funny in a subversive and twisted way that just makes them fantastic.

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett. A princess and a piglet are accidentally switched as babies, and instead of jumping to logical conclusions, people assume fairies and spells are involved, because it's the sort of thing that happens all the time in books. Hilarity ensues. When we checked this book out from the library, my little girl asked for the "princess piggy book" almost every day, and I renewed it so we could keep it for another month.

Sleepy Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford. When my husband brought this book home from the library, I was confused. And then we read it with my little girl and it quickly became one of our favorite books EVER. With phrases like, "Sleepy little yoga baby hangs upside down like a bat," and "Sleepy little yoga baby hums like a bee," to accompany pictures of simple yoga poses, it is impossible for my toddler to resist doing the poses. ("I up-down like a bat too!") It's great for getting the wiggles out before bedtime.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. Yes, this book was written by Ryan from The Office. Yes, it actually does not have any pictures. If you aren't familiar with this book, please watch this video of B.J. reading it to a group of kids. I don't know if my little girls will get it quite yet (the two month old definitely won't, but the two year old might get a few giggles) but I just feel like it does such a great job of showing just how powerful books and words can be, and it's hilarious at the same time.

What books are you wishing for this year? 

Monday, December 15, 2014

5 DIY Gifts for Small Children (That I'm Actually Giving This Year)

I had big intentions to get this post up in early December so you could all benefit. But then, I had intentions to be done with all of my DIY Christmas gifts by now, so I should have known it wouldn't happen. Full disclosure, I've been working on some of these things for awhile so they haven't been stressful to put together, but I don't recommend you tackle them all in the remaining 10 days before Christmas. However, if you need a last minute idea or want to save it for next year, I've got you covered!

I really love Christmas, and I love giving gifts, but I really don't like the huge price tag that you can very easily attach to Christmas if you aren't careful. To stretch our budget this year (which was intentionally small since we just had a baby and a gallbladder and bought a bigger car), we made quite a few of our gifts (and fixed up things we got at the thrift store for some of the others.)

A couple of tips about DIY gifts from someone who has spent many years being overly ambitious and has repeatedly overestimated her skills:

  • Making your own gifts is really only a pleasant experience if you pick projects that are doable for you and that you will enjoy making. I've used my sewing machine to make some gifts before, but this is the first year I've felt confident enough to tackle multiple and varied projects with it - and that I've enjoyed sewing enough to even want to. Even then, I keep it simple and try to avoid things that I don't know how to do. Learning new skills isn't for Christmas time. 
  • Be realistic about how much time you've got an plan accordingly. Don't wait until December 20th and then decide to make homemade gifts for everyone on your list. I love to tinker around with things in my sewing box, so sometimes I restrain myself and toss whatever I've made in the back room to save for Christmas or birthdays or whatever. I think part of the reason homemade gifts get a bad rap is that people try to make them all in December and make themselves crazy - or they think that have to make something perfect that is out of their skill range and then they just want to cry and throw it on the fire.) 

Here are a few of the things I am giving this year that I made myself (or with my husband) without resorting to swearing. I'd love to hear what you've made!

For my baby, I made these soft blocks. The first couple of attempts were a little lopsided because I was not very precise and then was too lazy to unpick my mistakes, but since I added lots of little ribbons and there's bumpy minky on a couple of the sides, I think she'll like them anyway. In my experience, 3 month olds seem to care little about things like right angles. By the time I'd made a couple, I was ready to make the next present.

Next we made a version of this game, which is actually quite reasonably priced (I thought), but which my husband saw and said, "We could make that!" So I made a 10" by 10" soft block using the above tutorial (this one finally came out square) and a little pocket using . . . my brain . . . and a scrap and some velcro, and my husband drew cards, and it's the cutest thing you've ever seen. Observe:
There's no real tutorial for it that I know of (maybe I'll make one sometime), but if you decide to try it, I decided to sew a couple of strips of velcro to my cube and to the little card pouch for storage purposes, and the cards will each be outlined in one of the colors on the block so that when you roll you pick one of the cards in that color and do an activity in one of 6 categories. We found out what categories were in the game from the comments on Amazon, then modified it so it was something we thought our 2.5 year old would really love. My husband has been drawing cards while we watch Fringe, but if you don't have an artist in your house I imagine you could use clip art.

Another thing that struck my fancy a few months ago was this toddler sewing kit that I found while browsing Pinterest. My toddler is ALWAYS wanting to dig in my sewing box, and since it's full of needles and pins and scissors, that means it can't be out when she's around. Her sewing kit includes some empty spools, some pipe cleaner, some pom poms, a plastic needle, an embroidery hoop with some drawer liner on it, various bits of yarn and fabric, plastic mesh for "sewing," a zipper I had for a project I didn't use, and measuring tape. I found a little jewelry making box that looks like a tackle box or a tool box (except pink) for $8 at Walmart and decided that would keep things together better than a basket (the closest I could find online was this one, but the one in the store was much cheaper and didn't have the green lid), and voila! I think she'll love tinkering with it while I'm working on projects.

This is the inspiration basket. Mine looks nothing like this.

I also whipped up a couple of these hooded animal towels for my girls, since they are both using the three towels I got when CB was a baby, which are starting to look a little ratty well-loved. Because I was feeling a little lazy pressed for time, I made a ladybug and a butterfly and didn't sew any spots on the back, because eyes + antennae = the easiest of these, except maybe the Mickey Mouse one (although I did find some kind of fun towels to attach the hoods to that had some pretty stripes). I've made these before to give as baby shower gifts, so these came together in about 1.5 Doctor Who Christmas specials. (I've made a cow and a lion before, and they are a bit more time-intensive, although not ridiculously so.) 

Of course my favorite option is always this doll pattern from Wee Wonderfuls, and I have some fabric stashed away for one this year that I'll hopefully post later.  My girls aren't getting any this particular Christmas, but my new baby needs one at some point, so I'll be working on that when this stretch is over. The creator of the pattern just posted this Elsa doll that she made using the pattern on her blog, and I am dying. I'm not sure if I can figure out the hair, but I'd like to try (and I think an Anna doll would be easy-peasy). 
Isn't she darling? See her here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's In A Wedding Ring

About three months ago my wedding ring went missing. I have horrible pregnancy brain that left me putting lotion instead of toothpaste on my toothbrush the other day and a very mischievous two year old who loves to hide things and just figured out how to get our heat registers up. Prospects did not look good.

Nevertheless we searched high and low. We took apart our entire house, we searched our yard, we scoped our heating ducts, we were getting ready to rent a metal detector when one day, three months after I lost it- I was looking for a shirt in my drawer that I had emptied and searched through previously when tangled up in one of my shirts, my wedding ring fell out! The best part is that my husband happened to be standing right next to me when I found it and we both got to experience the joy of finding it together.

Now my wedding ring is beautiful and just my style and I love it. But it wasn't the amount of money it cost or the diamond size or clarity that I missed and cried over when I lost it. It was the real cost of my wedding ring. It was the entire summer my at the time boyfriend moved across the country to work his fingers to the bone to save up to buy me a wedding ring. It was every morning that he woke up at 5 a.m. to go to work. It was every night we spent talking on the phone late into the night and the tired guy would fall asleep and ask me in a sudden loud voice if I needed an oil change. It was the way he sacrificed for three months to give me the ring he thought I deserved even when I told him I would be perfectly happy with a ring that didn't require all that. It was the way that when I lost it and told him I would be thrilled with a non-diamond wedding ring he told me he had already called the jeweler to see if they still sold my exact ring. It was the reminder that someone in my life thinks I deserve the very best even if I don't and is willing to work as hard as he possibly can to make that happen. It was the reminder that I chose a partner who makes that same sacrifice for me every day only in different ways, sometimes smaller ways that are just as meaningful, like staying up late to put together a crockpot meal so I don't have to cook dinner the next day.

My wedding ring is the reminder of the person that gave it to me.

And that's why I love it.