Monday, December 28, 2009

Making Merry

On Christmas Eve we traditionally reenact the nativity story.  The kids decide which part they want to play and then put together costumes.  This year, K decided to write a play which was set in modern times that incorporated the nativity story.  It was about a girl who taught her friends about the true meaning of Christmas.  And since K roped Shaggy into playing a few roles, I was left to decide between my beloved camera or the camcorder.  I opted for the latter which is why I have no photos to post.  They pulled off a brilliant show, even with a stray sheep (aka J), and a toddler wandering in and out of the scenes.

After the play, the kids excitedly opened one present--a decision they have been AGONIZING over for weeks.  I don't think I've ever been asked the same question so repeatedly in such a concentrated time.  "Mom, which present do YOU think I should open?"  I managed to avoid giving any of them a straight answer.  What would be the fun in me choosing the present for them?!  I do love hearing the outrageous guesses about what's inside the wrapping.

Just before reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and being tucked into bed, they went outside to sprinkle the reindeer food (oats & glitter--yum!) on the front lawn.  As I was tucking J into bed, he got a very downcast look on his face and said, "Santa's gonna bring me coal."  I was surprised by this--it's not like we have ever told him anything like this excplicity.  But I'm sure he's heard about it from stories, movies or his sisters.  I asked him why he thought that.  "'Cuz I'm mean," he told me dejectedly.  I felt bad for him, but was also a little glad that he was able to recognize and admit one of his faults.  I told him something about how Santa knows we all make mistakes and he likes it when we apologize for what we do wrong.  And that he can see our hearts to know if we are trying to be nice.  I'm not sure my words brought him all that much comfort.  He really wasn't sure if he was going to get that wagon he'd asked Santa for.

Turns out he didn't have to worry, after all.  This is what our living room looked like late into the night on Christmas Eve.  Santa had already stopped here while all the little one were sleeping soundly in their beds.  We think they were, anyway.  The girls claimed to have heard footsteps on the roof. 

Christmas morning, as usual, came a little TOO early for my taste.  But we managed to drag ourselves out of bed so we could see the kids faces as they first came into the living room.  What a magical sight that always is!  The kids dumped out their stockings and then we rounded them up for breakfast. 

Growing up, we always had an agonizing wait while my parents cooked a nice, slow breakfast.  Then we had to clean up the kitchen until nary a dirty dish or crumb was left.  Then FINALLY, we read the Christmas story and opened our gifts. Somehow, that tradition hasn't been preserved in my family.  We eat a quick bowl of sugar cereal (one of the few times a year we buy it), then get to the business of Christmas.

And this is a fairly tame morning when it comes to J's hair.

K has pretty nice morning hair, too.

J was very particular about loading all of his loot into his wagon as he unwrapped it.

I had to convince J that it was okfor him to actually sit in his wagon.  He was afraid it wasn't strong enough or that it would tip over.  It's a good thing we plan on painting in the next few months--our walls aren't faring so well with the wagon inside.

The living room is always a total disaster once we finish opening presents.  I always like to get a photo of the chaos before cleaning it up.

We were lucky this year and also got a little dose of family.  Shaggy's sister came down for a few days and unbelievably, everyone cooperated for a photo.

Why I Hate Sugar Cookies

My kids LOVE making sugar cookies.  I most definitely DO NOT.  First off, they're just not as tasty as chocolate chip cookies.  Second, you can't just plop them on the pan to cook.  You have to make a huge mess over and over and over again in order to fill the pans.  Third, and this is my biggest frustration, I ALWAYS burn at least one batch.  Sometimes I burn all of them.  I just can't juggle the rolling and cutting with the remembering to take them out of the oven on time.

Which is why we make them decidedly LESS than once a year.  When Santa comes to our house on Christmas Eve, he is not always greeted with a plate of perfectly browned and decorated sugar cookies.  More often, he gets brownies, or chocolate chip cookies, or even carrots & M&Ms. (That was the year the kids realized that the reindeer must get hungry, too.)

But this year, Santa was lucky.  He got sugar cookies.  And some of them weren't even burned.
Little R was all into helping with the cookies.  And she had a little TOO much fun with the sprinkles.
I was distracted by the rolling & cutting, as well as my little mess maker, which is why I burned the very first batch of nicely sugared cookies.  In retrospect, putting the red hots on before baking was maybe not such a good idea since they all melted.
I haven't even attempted to make sugar cookies for several years.  So my expectations may have been a little high.  It's been long enough that I had forgotten why I hate sugar cookies and I allowed myself to be fooled by photos of perfectly lovely samples.

So when the very first batch came out burned, I was extremely frustrated.  And I took it out on the kids.  I yelled at them and made them leave the kitchen.  Nice, I know.  Not one of my best Mom moments.  It really wasn't their fault at all, which they happily pointed out to me when I had calmed down, apologized, and allowed them back in the kitchen.  J informed me that I had been put on the half naughty, half nice list because I had yelled at them.  I suppose that was a fair punishment.

By some miracle, I managed to not burn any more batches.  So then we got to the business of decorating.  As you can clearly see, none of my children have grasped the "less is more" philosophy.  It's something we can work on in three years when we make sugar cookies again.

Nobody complained about the way the cookies tasted.  Probably because they couldn't actually taste the cookies through all the sugar & candy they piled on top.
We left the cookies out for Santa, and J insisted we also leave a VERY tall glass of milk. S wrote a note which she left by the plate of cookies.

Dear Santa,  I (but she crossed that out and put we) have been good (underlined 10 times) this year.  I hope you like the milk and cookies.  I made you the Christmas tree.  Also, I hope the reindeer like the oats and glitter (sprinkled on the front lawn before bedtime).  I hope you got us what we wanted.  Tell your elfs thanks for making the toys and working very hard this year!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Slumber Party

In years past, we let the kids sleep under the Christmas tree on Christmas day.  This year, we thought it might somehow be more fun for them if they did it before Christmas.  And judging from how long they stayed up whispering and giggling, I think we were right.

Last night was the night.  We had to do it before Christmas Eve--wouldn't want the poor kiddos to be trampled by all the night-before-Christmas traffic.  And Santa certainly needs room to maneuver when dropping off the gifts.

So we got them all snuggled into their sleeping bags and put on a tape of 'A Christmas Carol.'  Shaggy, little R and I shared a blanket on the sofa and settled in to listen to the story.  The tape was a copy of one that I listened to growing up.  My brothers & I became so familiar with this particular reading that we could mimic not only the exact words, but the pauses and inflections as well.  I was so excited to finally get a hold of a copy so that I could share it with my kids.  My mother had to practically pry this copy out of my father's hands to send to me.

J & R didn't really pay attention, but the girls were quite wrapped up in the story.  We listened avidly as Marley's ghost visited Scrooge and to his experiences with the ghost of Christmas past.  We were breathlessly awaiting the introduction to the ghost of Christmas present when the tape ended.  We quickly flipped it over only to discover that the other side contained very bad recordings of various Christmas songs.  Like someone had taped over the story.  Hmmm . . . not such a good copy after all.  And it wouldn't be that big of a deal, really, except that my kids apparently aren't at all familiar with the Christmas Carol story.  Shame on me.  What have I been teaching them all these Christmases?  Not about Scrooge, I guess.

And again, NONE of this would be a big deal if I could find another copy somewhere.  But this recording was never put onto CD, so it just doesn't seem to be available anywhere--not even Ebay.  The only copy I know of is the original in my father's possession.  Which doesn't bode well for me . . . or my kids.  He guards that copy VERY closely.  I sense either a battle of wills in my future--or an extensive and very patient search.

The next day, we stayed in PJs pretty much all day.  And played.  And ate treats.  And lounged around.  And watched a Christmas movie.  It was a fabulous day.

The kids also built with the presents and then played all over their creation.  While I snapped pictures to my heart's content.  Who could ask for anything more?  The kids even got along . . . the ENTIRE day.  I'm talking no squabbles or bickering.
That's a minor miracle!

I don't know how they are able to mesh Star Wars scenarios with Bob the Builder, cars and various animal figures, but somehow they do.  Like when the girls were little and could seamlessly combine Power Rangers with princesses at playgroup.

Now I know what to put on my Christmas wish list--more days like this!

Busy Bees

I’ve found myself wondering lately if limitless energy and boundless imagination are really a good combination.  Everybody says they are, but trying to keep up with four such children is proving to be rather difficult.  We’ve only just STARTED our Christmas vacation, and already I’m worn out!

The kids created a park, complete with park rules and a general manager.  Of course, that was K, if you hadn’t already guessed.  And though she advertised for donations, I don't think she actually made any money that day.  They tossed balls, balanced on bilibos, and slid and jumped on the sofa cushions.  Ummm . . . yes,
sometimes I let them do that.

We discovered that little R can climb to the top of the bunk beds WITHOUT the ladder.  She monkeys her way up the head of the bed only to grab the top rail and then let her feet dangle until someone comes to rescue her.  Sigh.  It’s so much easier to keep the girls’ room securely closed when they’re away at school all day!

The kids have set a new record for the number of times they can run around the coffee table before they either collapse exhaustedly on the sofa or end up in tears because they crashed into something.

S and J have spent long hours running around the house flapping bandanas, pretending to be hippogriffs.

We have established that there are SOME presents that will survive if stepped on.  I’m a little afraid to examine the others too closely.  But the kids were duly warned before they began any present building adventures.  If it’s broken when they open it, I’ll be well within my rights to say, “I told you so!”

There have been many role-playing games involving Harry Potter, the City of Ember, Nancy Drew, and Star Wars.  There’s been sword fights and regular fights, laughter and tears.

But the epitome of creativity came when they decided to use biodegradable packing peanuts to create a green bouncy world for their Star Wars figures.  It was complete with hammock, tunnel, palm tree, fish tank, throne, crib, and bed.  They even used a piece of styrofoam as an imperial starship.  If you look closely at the photo, I think you’ll agree that Darth Vader never had such a cushy chair.

Have you ever come across this type of packing peanut?  They’re really pretty cool.  You just get one end wet and it melts somewhat and will stick to most anything.  K even turned a shoebox into a monster mouth for J to chase people with.  She may have regretted that creation, but he loved it.

I suppose I should be grateful that they’ve managed to keep themselves busy.  Because when the boredom sets in, so does the fighting.  And that’s always harder to deal with than creativity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's A Road Trip Without A Little Vomit?

A recent trip up to the mountains had a very inauspicious beginning.  We spent all morning gathering and packing everything we might possibly need.  Then, as we were about to pull out of the driveway, the dog threw up in the back of the van.  Lovely.  I thought we should leave him home, but was overruled.  It was just nerves and excitement, Shaggy assured me.

So after cleaning up, we headed out, dog and all.  Other than a little complaining and some bickering, most of the drive up was uneventful.  Which is good.  Any road trip with four kids that’s uneventful is a HUGE success.  But as we neared the lake which was our destination, the kids started complaining about being hungry.  And even though it WAS lunch time, we tried to convince them to wait until we stopped so we could all eat together at a picnic table.  Mostly, they listened to us.  Except for S who pulled out her trusty PB&J, took one bite, and then proceeded to throw up all over.

We headed to the nearest public restroom so she could change--fortunately, I had packed a full change of clothes for everyone.  Mostly, I had been thinking we might need them in the event anyone fell into the lake.  Wasn’t really thinking of the probability of vomit.  But I suppose I should have been.  Poor S has been in this situation several times before, certainly enough times to officially label her as being prone to carsickness.  Might be wise for us to permanently stash a barf bag by her seat.

Once everything was cleaned up (Shaggy got stuck with the job of cleaning the van--yuck!), we decided to head down the hill to check out the little park we saw.  Though pale, S said she was feeling better and wanted to go for a walk.  Turned out to be one of the BEST parks we’ve been to in a very long time.  It had a really cool spinning wheel in lieu of a merry-go-round and a spinning seat that almost made the rest of us toss our cookies, as well.  It was seriously FAST!

Once we’d had our fill of spinning, swinging, rocking and sliding, we headed next door to the picnic area.  After gobbling down their food, the kids headed off to explore the woods.  Trees to run around and big rocks to climb are always a hit, but this area apparently had the added thrill of being inhabited by a mean ogre who was in search of kids to capture.  Luckily, our whole crew successfully avoided this ugly ogre and his cave. 

Other highlights included finding a toy lizard that the kids named “banana” because it was yellow and brown which reminded them of a rotten banana, R getting arrested by K for poking her, and an animated discussion about weather “bumpy-wumpies” or “twisty-wisties” were more fun to drive over.  Bumpy-wumpy and twisty-wisty are phrases the girls coined when they were quite small to describe different sections of road.  I think they all ended up in agreement that twisty-wisties were more fun, but S did acknowledge that they made her sick.  Something we will have to be more mindful of in the future.

We never did make it to the lake.  But we did end up taking a road less traveled which led us through a snowy wonderland.  Needless to say, this thrilled the kids who wanted to jump out and play in it.  But since Shaggy and I had had enough adventure for one day, we vetoed the idea of stopping.  We just weren’t up to dealing with wet clothes and soggy feet.

On our way down the mountain, S managed to spill her water while we were navigating a twisty-wisty.  She grumpily announced, “When you turned like that, my ice water spilled and now my butt’s cold.”  Which, to her dismay, made everyone laugh.  She eventually joined in, and a good portion of our drive home echoed with many repetitions of “my butt’s cold,” followed with lots more laughter.

Maybe S ought to rethink her affection for twisty-wisties.  They certainly didn’t bring her much good fortune on this particular day.  But I will say that we ended up grateful that she threw up--not because it was such a joy to clean up, but because it led us to a great place that we may never have discovered otherwise.  And just think how we must have brightened the ogre’s day by showing up when we did.  It must get lonely in the winter with no children to chase.