I should have known. I should have listened to that inner voice that said, "Don't use wax paper in the oven." And YET... the cookbook specifically said "Line sheet with greased wax paper."

SO... with smoke pouring out of my oven and all my baking sheets now covered with wax, I have to say !@#*&@*&$^*^%&^@%#&$*&* to you, stupid cookbook, and the horse you rode in on. Also #$@%.

At any rate, making lemons out of lemonade, or in this case, macaroon chunks out of a big waxy mess... Lee and his cousin Mike didn't have any trouble picking off the good bits of coconut-y yumminess. Mike's wife didn't join us in our munching, which is, we figure, the reason she is a size 2 and we are not.


This is the Sport that Never Ends...

My mom asked me the other day about soccer, and I realized that it SEEMS like there would not be soccer at this time of year.

Oh, but there is. They still have practice 3 times a week (indoor), and they had one tournament each (indoor). Indoor play is quite different from outdoor: fewer players, smaller field, smaller goal, no off-sides, shorter games. They each had 4 games during their tournament... on the same day.

Here's a pic from Yordi's last game in November. It was chilly. (Ha! We thought THAT was cold.) They ended well, winning this game 2-1.

And here's one from October... Habtamu's got a pretty powerful kick.


Excuse me...

Have you ever...


tried to talk...


to your spouse...

Mom? Mom?

without being...

Mommy? Where are you?


After church on Sunday, I had just a few things to talk about with Lee. I let the kids get out of the car, and told Lee, "Lock the doors!" So we sat in the car in the driveway with the doors locked. The kids started pelting snowballs at the car and were having a grand old time. We then put the car in neutral and let them push the car up and down the driveway.

Meanwhile, our kind neighbor, seeing our car being pushed, stopped to help... Hee hee... had to tell him, no thanks, we're just trying to talk for 5 minutes.



Killer Lentil Soup

Both kids agreed that this soup didn't look like it would taste good. Both had 2 servings and were oohing and aahing over it. I'll share it with you, although it's certainly not rocket science. You all probably have the ingredients on hand.

1 onion chopped
4 carrots chopped
1 T crushed garlic
4 T butter
1 t. cumin
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. cayenne pepper (or red pepper, or your spicy spice of choice - or not)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth (I use chicken base mixed with water)
2-3 cups cooked lentils

Fry up the onions, carrots, and garlic in butter. Add spices, stir to avoid burning. Add tomatoes and broth and lentils. Let simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I served it as a thick soup this time. Add less liquid, and it can be eaten with injera or flour tortillas.


Stary Wars

Yordanos opted out of book time tonight to write her own story. She had some help from the nerdiest mom on the block, but you know, how else is a kid gonna spell 'Bacta Tank' right? And really, it's pretty amazing considering that last Christmas she told me Yoda was Luke's father.

Clicking on the picture should make it nice and big for ya'll, but I'll warn you, there's a big spoiler in there for the three of you who haven't seen Return of the Jedi yet. If anyone has trouble reading it, I can transcribe it. I'm fluent in Yordese.


Endless Weary Procession

That's how I would describe my days (if 4 hours of daylight can even be CONSIDERED a "day"). I am weary of making lunch... AGAIN... and dinner... AGAIN... ad nauseum...

Since daylight is brief, my body has been craving carbs... so much so that I have been baking vast quantities of bread, pancakes and cookies. A friend asked if I happened to be in training for a marathon. After wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I had to admit that, NO, it's just that my butt has been begging to be bigger for such a long time that I finally decided to give it what it wanted.

I know that looks like a lot of pancakes, and it is... I think I did 6 times the recipe. I am not sure what possessed me to make that many in one sitting (well, standing) and I was swearing by the end of it. However, the kids can reheat them for breakfast by themselves.

Also, I baked my mom's bread recipe... the one that she made rolls for every holiday and family gathering in my youth. And at every gathering, someone would invariably ask, "Connie brought the rolls, right?" Because, seriously, people maybe would decide not to stay for Thanksgiving if she hadn't brought these rolls. (By the way, Mom, I'm sorry I scoffed at you when I was a teenager about your bread. You were reminiscing about baking all our bread when I was little, and I snorted and said, "What a waste of time." And you said quietly, "I didn't think it was." You were right and I was just being a little expletive deleted. Thankfully, my children are kinder to me than I was to you and they said, "Mmmm.... tastes like Ethiopia bread.")

You'll notice that the recipe yields 2 dozen rolls. I made one dozen rolls and one loaf and this is all that was left about an hour after they came out of the oven.

Speaking of Ethiopia food, I had a bag of lentils and decided to make Yemiser W'at (Lentil Stew.)
Gratifyingly, both children drifted into the kitchen, sniffing the air and asking, "Are you making Ethiopia food?! Yum!" I wish I could claim responsibility for them liking lentils. Seriously? What kid likes lentils? Mine were eating them right out of the pot, not even needing the stew. But they did like the stew. We didn't have injera (the Ethiopian bread) so we used flour tortillas which were a success. (No, I can't make injera... it takes days by all accounts... I've tried and failed... if anyone has an easy way to make it, I'm all ears.)

One day, I asked the kids to help me put the dishes away. There was such a cacophony of whiny-pantsing that I put my earphones in and sang loudly to some 80's music. For some reason, the children did not think this was funny. It sure made MY work go smoother.


Oh, and Son, Never, ever, take your eyes off the clown.

So there I am, in Wal-Mart with the kids the other day, noodling around the Audio/Video area. I know that doing so just taunts the children, but it's pretty much the only department where we can all amuse ourselves for more than 2 minutes. H went straight for the Playstation, Yordi spent some time pressed in front of the iPod display, and eventually they both converged on the phones. As it's Halloween, the store had all the scary movies discounted and on display out front. We had walked right past them to get to the shiny things on the way in, but as he is so good at doing, on the way out Habtamu grabbed a random movie off the rack and asked if we could get it.

"No." I said in my hurried, irritated father voice, seeing only that he was carrying some black DVD.
"Why not?" He asked.
"Because it's scary," I said instinctively.
"Scary?" He said incredulously.
"Yeah. Scary. Like every other movie in this rack. Put it back. Let's go."
"If it's scary, why is there a little girl on it?"
I finally glanced back and actually looked at the DVD in his hand.

"Uh, yeah. Put it back."
"But she's just watching TV."
"Uh-huh. Trust me. Put it back."

Part of me really, really wants my kids to go through the certain rights of passage, and to have the same reflex to punch clowns in the face, as my generation does. If I do nothing else for my children, shouldn't I leave them with a healthy fear of possessed clown dolls? Everyone I know has some movie that they later confess they were too young to watch. I kind of think that when the time comes for my children, I'd rather it happen in my presence with a movie I'm familiar with, than having them come home sleepless and whimpering after some slumber party.

If Yordi wasn't already hearing things in her closet, I'd probably seriously consider it, but as it is, the last thing we need is for her to be afraid of her closet, the hall closet, the tree outside her window, and clowns under her bed. There's just no good that could come of that.

So this Halloween, you get a pass my little ones. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go punch a clown and then run and long jump into bed.

*Although not directly stated, the movie was Poltergiest. For us children of the 80's, it goes without saying.


Statistical Probability + Psychological Warfare = Yahtzee!

Habtamu does 'casual math' in his head like I remember doing. He'll sit in the car and divide out how many slices of pizza everyone should get for dinner, or figure out how many more quarters he needs to get to a dollar.

For Yordi however, it is taking more time to solidify some fundamental mathematical connections. For some reason, the fact that my daughter didn't intuitively know that two even numbers added together always equal another even number was really burning me up the other night. We were playing Yahtzee and she couldn't figure out why my voice kept rising every time she guessed at her die count.

"What's 27 plus 1?"
"Good so what's 28 plus another 1?"
*eye-roll* "Then what is 28 plus 2?"
"Umm, 30."
"Yes! Ok, so what's 30 minus 1?"
"No, minus. 30 minus 1?"
"UGH! No! if you have 5 dice and they are all sixes, how many points do you have?"
"What? No! Stop guessing."
"Yes! Yahtzee is 50 points."
"Urgh... No! Well,yes but... ok... (Deep breath) I meant how many dots are showing?"
"YES! Now, if I make one of those sixes a five, how many points do you have!?"
"twe....nty.... eight?"
"IDONTKNOWIDONTKNOWIDONTKNOW!!! Daddy, why are you yelling at me? It's just a game?"
"I do math in the morning. I don't know it now."
"NO! Math is like English! You NEVER get to turn it off! It's always important!"
(This time I get the eye-roll)
"Look, this is serious. What if you go to buy something at the store and..."
"I don't want to play any more."
"FINE. Add up your score and you can be excused."

My daughter then gets real low to the table and proceeds to add up her full Yahtzee card. For those of you aren't regular players, that's 6 numbers plus another 6 numbers which then have to be combined to get your final score. She then pushed her chair back, dropped her pencil on the table, and made a deliberate exit.

Curious (and petty,) I checked her math. "Wait a minute!" I yelled back at her. "You can add 12 numbers together correctly, but you can't tell me what 28 plus 1 is? You CAN do math at night just fine when you want to! What's going on here?"

"The game is finished," She said. "It's book time."

You know, I'm still not sure exactly which 'game' she's referring to.

Note to self: No Paul Newman movies for the child who is already sharking daddy at Yahtzee.


Just when you think you've got it all figured out

I've been trying to suppress my inner jerk, and it hasn't been easy this week. Habtamu had an awful game this weekend. We drove out to flippin' Lombard, which was 120 miles round trip, just to watch the team lose. H got injured, the extent of which is debatable, some time during the first half and did a whole lot of ball watching the rest of the game. He'd make a half-hearted kick somewhere in the vicinity of the ball, then watch the other team run by. As a soccer dad, so far that makes my blood boil the most. I'm sure he'll find some other way to tick me off, but for now, that's taking the cake.

So, you know, I tried to find something positive to talk about on the way home. His throw-ins were good. He really 'toughed it out' through his injury. Anything but what I was really thinking. We made it home in reasonably good spirits. But it's been in the back of my mind... Why is he just giving up? Why isn't he taking soccer seriously? When is he going to commit? Etc... All those things that sport Dads worry about.

Last night was rough too. Too much sugar and excitement, not enough cooldown time. Yordi got scared a couple times, I dreamt about being chased by Vampires (apparently I had too much candy too) and I didn't ask details, but the toilet upstairs flushed no less than 4 times between 6:30 and 6:45 this morning. So as I was coming home from work, I braced myself for who was going to be the biggest crabby patty when I walked in. And this is what I was met with:

That's right. My son, for the first time, had picked up a book and was reading through chapter one of Junie B Jones just because he wanted to and because he could. He would go a good 8 to 12 words before needing any help. He then read the second chapter after dinner. Chris and I high five'd in the kitchen when nobody was looking.

Yordi has already crossed the 'reading for pleasure' thresh-hold and even wrote a little story straight out of her own imagination the other day. She doesn't fear reading or sounding things out and will fudge unfamiliar words on the fly instead of getting bogged down and frustrated. Some days it's almost as if they are completely different people...

So it may not have been a banner week for soccer, but he certainly made up for it in the life skills department.


Moment of Zen

Murray is the best cat ever. He's not perfect... he's got a penchant for puking on our white bedspread... sometimes while we're in it. But if you want your lap warmed, just sit for 30 seconds, and he's there for you, man. He usually sleeps stretched out along my back, or curled up between Lee's and my heads. Lee and I often joke that "nothing will ever come between us... except Murray."

A friend of mine just had her BFF Cat die this summer, and it got me paranoid about Murray. There's nothing wrong with him that I know of, and I'm sure I'd be sad if something happened to the other cats, BUT... c'mon! It's Murray.

The kids are still campaigning to get rid of Rico, "the mean cat," and bring in Fluffer Nutter, "the nice one from outside." Oh? The one that has fleas and who we've been calling Night of the Living Dead since he got in a fight that ripped half his face off? That one?


Some people claim that there's a woman to blame...

... but I know, it's my own damn fault. (A little Jimmy Buffett for you. Sorry about the "D" word, but it fits.)

So, I've just been little Suzy Homemaker lately, making my own red sauce, making apple sauce, drying red salsa peppers...

I hung the peppers up to dry and they were doing fine, but I wanted to dry them faster. So, I pulled them all down and sliced them lengthwise, spread them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven on low.

In my defense, I usually don't have a cold that requires the blowing of my nose every 5 minutes. I realized something was very wrong when the outer edge of my nose caught on fire. What the? There was then a little mild swearing and vigorous hand washing to get the pepper oil OFF and meanwhile my nose is STILL ON FIRE and did I just RUB MY EYE? Am I a complete moron? It's not like I haven't done this to myself before. Hello? Gloves? I see why pepper spray is so effective... I just about knocked my own self out in my own kitchen. So, my face is on fire and I can't open my left eye. "Mommy? You ok?" "Peppers..." I choke out, and start coughing up a lung because I've just breathed in the pepper from the air.

I won't even show you the teeny tiny bag of dried red pepper flakes I got for all my trouble.

Last night, when Lee came to bed, I was still awake. I rolled over and wiggled my fingers at him and asked, "Are my fingers on fire?" He laughed, confused, and said, "No. Should they be?" I had trouble sleeping they were so hot. And today, "Mommy? Why are you shaking your hands like that?" They laughed at me too.

So, next year! Gloves! Remind me!


This is Your Child

This is Your Child... On Donuts!


English as a Second Language

It has been interesting, to say the least, to hear the children's language develop. We decided to let their language grow more or less organically.

There are still some words that give them trouble. Here are some of the current ones.

Glalola Bal - Granola Bar (They've had trouble with this one since day 1. It has finally started bugging me enough that I make them repeat the syllables after me before they can have one.)

FAMily - FINally (Yordanos uses Family for Finally, using the right inflection, so you ALMOST think she has said the right word.

reclistree - electricity (Yordanos is working on it... it's been a tongue twister for awhile.)


The Coldest Day EVER!

So, I drew the short straw for getting Yordanos to her 7:55 game Saturday morning. They have to be there 45 minutes before the game to warm up, so that makes the wake-up time somewhere in the "For the Love of all that's Holy, this is so early it's still yesterday" category. We didn't really draw straws... Lee was willing to take her, but Y looked up at me and wrinkled her cute little brow and said, "Mommy? I want YOU to take me." It wouldn't have been so bad except somebody's watch kept beeping every hour all night, so I saw 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 5:40, 6:00, 6:18 and finally decided it wasn't going to get any better, and dragged my weary carcass out of bed.

I was so glad I did because look what I got to see...

Does that look cold and slippery? Oh, yes.

She was crying in the car as her hands thawed out. We got more layers ready for the next game. Good thing, too, because it SNOWED during her 2nd game. Seriously? That goes against so many of my personal comfort issues. I didn't take any pictures of the 2nd game. I was too demoralized.


Life Lessons

Life Lesson #57: Don't let a white girl help you rinse your hair at the YMCA.

I've talked some about Yordanos' hair issues. Her hair is HUGE, and sometimes has a life of it's own. As it gets longer, we have to work harder and harder to keep the clumps out. Yes, clumps. If she wanted to do dread-locks, it would be absolutely NO problem... just let the clumps clump. Or maybe, if you're familiar with the properties of wool, you'd see that her hair will actually felt and make a water impervious shield-clump. Hmmm... we have had trouble finding hats to fit her a.) big head, and b.) her big head with big hair. Puffs do not fit under hats... not any hat that I've found.

After the big soccer weekend, I got her in the tub and performed a clump-ectomy. Not too bad since we'd done a massive 2 and a 1/2 hour detangling the weekend before.

Lee took the kids swimming at the Y yesterday with a couple of friends. Yordanoas wanted to wash her own hair after swimming. With deep misgivings, I said yes, and we went over the rules of hair care... only rinse and wash one direction - front to back.

Weeeeellllllllllll, she comes home with the whole back of her hair matted up. 2 big mega-clumps covering the back of her head. So, predictably, I get angry, she gets defensive, claiming it's not her fault.

ME: Well, whose fault is it then, because it's NOT MINE! And now we have to spend the whole evening detangling.

Y: I don't want to! I hate my hair! Why can't we do it tomorrow?

Me: It will just get worse if we leave it. We have to do it!

Y: Why are you mad at me? It's not my fault.

Me: It doesn't matter whose fault it is, we have to do it tonight.

Y: It was M! She helped me rinse my hair. (Turns out she rinsed it like you would rinse it if you had short straight hair, like hers.... by running your fingers up from the base of the neck.)

Me: Oh. Well. We still have to do it.

So, people, really, I was put OUT. This was going to be at least an hour's worth of work, which neither of us wanted to do, especially since we'd just detangled the day before. I wasn't even mad at the other child, I just didn't want to spend the evening making my daughter cry. Because, it really hurts when I have to rip the hair apart to get little clumps out of the big clump, then get 10 hairs at a time out of the little clump until it's gone. It makes a terrible sound, and she's crying and I'm crying, etc, etc...

Well, we got through it. I had M, the friend, come read to us while I pulled the clumps apart. It did take an hour or so, and we were all exhausted. As I was rinsing her head, Yordanos said, "Mommy? Thanks for getting the clumps out. You did a good job." Well, you can't pour burning coals on my head any more effectively than that. We hugged and kissed, and I told her that I didn't like that her hair hurts, and that she did a good job.

Anyway, she says she will not try to wash her own hair at the YMCA, and we had a talk with the friend about the right way to do it.


Oh, the Humanity!

One of the hardest things about parenting is that you find yourself trying to parent HUMAN children. And, unfortunately, you find yourself, gasp... human, as well. So terribly human.

You want a story now, I suppose...

Lee had yesterday off for Columbus Day, so we went to the pumpkin patch and the apple orchard. (Oh, and, all of Illinois' children who were off school? They were all at the apple orchard. All of them.)

That made today a Monday, for all intents and purposes. Habtamu, predictably, cannot take the resumption of our regular days. He went into, well, let's just call it "ornery" mode while using his spelling words in sentences. I corrected him on one very small point of grammar, gave him options of what would be right, and he, predictably, made it seem like the end of the world. "I Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan't!" "It will be wrong whatever I do!"

I try very hard to be a reasonable person, but this behavior makes my anger level go from 0 to 120 in 2 seconds. It's not like I hit his knuckles when he uses English incorrectly. I don't berate, belittle, or in any way indicate that I am displeased when I correct him. His overreaction to my correction is, well, there's obviously something deeper going on. Me getting angry doesn't help, but, OY! Do I want to whap the back of his head with my pencil? Yes! But, do I? No. Instead I take the higher road, and try not to take his anger personally.

Then, I try to think of the good days like yesterday...



Now, if I asked you this question first thing in the morning, what would your response be? Angry? Defensive? Kind? Patient?

"Are you going to be grumpy like you were yesterday?"

Now, if the same question were asked to an ultra-sensitive sibling first thing in the morning, what would his response be?

Now, let's say that the 2 people asked the offending question got themselves together and became happy again, like we were first thing in the morning, what effect would that have on the one who asked the question?

Would she

a) get herself happy, since the other people were now happy?
b) become grumpier, and get sent to her room?


Just a Minute

Literally... that's all I have. This week is all-soccer-all-the-time. 4 away games between now and Sunday.

People are still asking me when we will put the kids in school. Any of our reasons to keep the kids don't seem to matter when faced with the overwhelming opinion that a) I need the break, b) the kids will respect someone else more than me as a teacher, c) they need to be "socialized", d) they are somehow missing out on the public school experience, and e) it's just plain odd to be homeschooling. This last one is never spoken out loud and yet it is there. Please, please, give us homeschoolers the benefit of the doubt that we are doing what we think is right for our children. Not your children, but OUR children. I will get off my soapbox now. Also, you may realize this from raising your own children, but the more someone tells me I'm not "doing it right," the more I dig my heels in. I'll yield if I'm just being stubborn, but we've gone round and round the whole schooling issue, and so far the pros of being home outweigh the cons.

Anyhow, on the subject of school. This year got off to a better start. I converted a whole room into our classroom, gave the children their own drawers and work spaces. We usually do about 3 hours of school a day. This includes writing, spelling, reading, and math. There is often another enriching subject thrown in too. A friend of mine and I sat down last night and decided what we were going to co-teach our kids this year. We divided up the subjects by what we each felt comfortable teaching, which pretty much covered the whole list. Neither of us like poetry, but we decided we shouldn't cripple our children with our dislikes. (Wish me luck! I drew the short straw.)

I had her 2 kids over yesterday and we studied about the solar system in general and did a craft with the planets and their order from the sun. I plan to continue the space theme, as it was pretty popular. The kids all asked good questions... lots about the sun and moon, so next time will be devoted to the moon.

My time is UP. Rats. Off to Soccer. (Oh, yes, it's capitalized to show it's importance to us right now... just like the other 's' word: Sleep.)


I know, I know....

Where's all that awesome blogging been? Ha ha. Soccer started and, man, is she a needy sport.


I had a friend ask me if Lee and I were mad at she and her husband, because we haven't hung out since this summer.


A friend's children asked her why my children HAVE to play soccer now, and will they ever see them again?


Filled out my calendar with all H and Y's games and had to give myself an adrenaline shot straight to the heart. 10 games didn't SEEM like that much. Until it doubled when Yordi joined up.


One tournament didn't seem like such a big deal until it became 3 tournaments in September alone. Next one is in October.


Practice 3 nights a week seemed totally doable back in August, until the tournaments and games started.


The kids are having a great time, and honestly, it's one of the few things I don't have to strong arm them into. I say, "Soccer practice tonight!" and they say, "Do I wear the green or white shirt?" (They have 2 practice shirts, which should, in theory, cut down on my laundry, but somehow I'm always washing soccer stuff.)

If you want to see us, we'll be at a soccer something-or-other until the middle of November. Oh, yeah, and probably LOVING it. It's fun to watch them play and improve. And, here's an awesome benefit ... having them run around for and hour and a half 3-4 times a week until 7:30 means they're asleep before Lee and I get to the bottom of the stairs.

I keep writing blogs in my head, but my head is usually on my pillow, and therefore nothing gets written, because I can never remember what I was thinking about as I was falling asleep, but I'm sure they were awesome.


Can I Have Your Autograph?

Click here for 1 of Yordi's 15 allotted minutes of fame.

Soccer Mom

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile. Most of you may already know that we have signed up both kids for a Soccer League. (Yes, it's supposed to be capitalized, so that you say it with the proper amount of reverence.) A new league started in our town, and a bunch of people from a competing league lost a bunch of players (defectors or traitors, depending on which league you are in) because they followed our coach.

Anyhow, this coach is from Nigeria, and everything he says is taken as gospel by Habtamu. We get lots of "Eno says..." and Lee and I look at each other and murmur, "Didn't we tell him that last week?" I'm all for backup from a big, tall Nigerian. I had to ask him to talk sense into H last night, who wanted to be a martyr because he forgot his jacket and wouldn't take the sweatshirt I offered. Eno asked, "Is he ok? Just playing the fool?" "Yep." "Habta! Put this on!" I talked to H later and said, "You know, I'll go to Eno if I need to, but I'd rather have you listen to ME when I tell you something." "Ok, mom." There may have been an eyeroll involved. (Possibly mine. I'm not saying.)

We were originally just going to sign Habtamu up, but someone got Yordanos to practice with the team, and she liked it too. Their practices are on the same days, back to back... meaning 3 times a week from 5-7:30. They have a 1/2 hour overlap.

They had their 1st tournament last weekend, in Elgin, so we stayed at Lee's folks' house, which is about 2 miles from the tournament. Habtamu's team (the under 13s, or U-13 co-ed) didn't win any of their 3 games, but Yordi's team (U-11 girls) won their second game. The big winner from our league was the U-18 girls. They won all 3 games (2 were shutouts) and won their play-off game. Yordi was so excited about them winning. "Hey! It doesn't matter that my team didn't win! The big girls won, and they're Shadows, and we're Shadows, too, so we all win." Indeed.

Yordi had so much fun playing, that, after the 1st game, she ran off the field toward us yelling, "Yay! We won!" "Um, no you didn't." "We didn't? Oh well, it was SO FUN!"

Habtamu was sad, of course, that they didn't win any. But, boy, you could see their improvement from one game to the next. They're the team with kids from the most different places... kids that have not played together before. (I guess the U-18 girls are like that, too, but they have the maturity and experience to be able to adapt more quickly.)

If we're not around much for the next, oh, infinity plus one, you'll know why. We're a soccer family now.


Frankly My Dear....

We were working on a project for Christmas out on the front porch. Yordanos reached for a marker, realized it was the wrong one, and said, "Damn."

I asked calmly, "What did you just say?"

She said, just as calmly, "Damn."

I said, "Oh, ok, that's what I thought you said. That's a bad word. We don't say that."

She said "Oh, ok." She paused, "Why is it a bad word?"

I gave a lame-o answer about some words being used in a bad way. Lee gave a much better answer later... that it means the opposite of blessing someone.

Then, of course, I tried to remember if I ever used "Damn" in front of them. It's not my swear word of choice, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.

HOWEVER, when you hear Yordanos say, "And I was like, YOU KNOW," you'll know that WAS me. D'oh.


Oh Relax! You'll survive

As you will see, the kids have really conquered their fears since last year's Tilt-a-Whirl experience, so we tried out Pharaoh's Fury (aka the Pirate Ship ride-thingy) at the fair this year. Unfortunately for them, their parents still have a twisted sense of humor and took pictures.

Click here if you really want to see the terror in detail.


Kids: Can't live with em, can't live without em

(Continuing with the Retro theme... I typed this on the fourth of August before Chris's brilliant parenting maneuver.)

Well, I don't know who had a longer day yesterday. It was either Habtamu who was angrified most of the day, or Chris who had to deal with him. The first call I got at work was, "Well, we're right back to where we started last year..." and I heard Habtamu banging around in the background. He had already stormed away from his school lesson, gone out to ride his bike but not actually done it, and then had been sent out twice since then. His MO is to tell everyone to leave and/or go away, but then if you do he follows you around and makes sure you know he's still there. Chris somehow remained calm through all this as we came to the conclusion that he was acting out because he was really nervous about his first official soccer practice that evening. Of course, you couldn't tell him that, but it became more and more apparent as the day wore on. Eventually I got a call from him, but it was pleasantly NOT like previous phone conversations... usually when he wants to talk, all I get is him yelling 'NO' over and over into the phone. This time he was clearly upset, but not yelling. I asked him if he figured out what was wrong yet. Usually this question gets a rabid, "NOTHING!" but this time I got a cracked, "I don't know." So we went over the basics. Hungry? No. Tired? No. Need the bathroom? No. Thirsty? No. Again... not the angry defiant "NO's" I'm used to, civil ones. We chatted a little longer and decided that taking the flat tire off his (old) bike would be a good change of pace and take his mind off things. It worked for a while. He came back in, got through school and lunch, and then proceeded to swing wildly emotionally the rest of the afternoon. By the time I met up with the family at soccer practice Yordi was bopping around the playground, Habtamu was stepping through a gauntlet of footwork drills, and Chris was totally shot but distracting herself by taking pictures of the team.

Things are much better than they were last year, but it's really frustrating how quickly we can slip into the old routines. Chris and Habtamu had a discussion about 'Fight or Flight' in an attempt to explain to him that pushing people away is a 'flight' response to being scared. It doesn't make him a bad person, but it doesn't excuse bad behavior. Chris and I talked about how even soldiers get training on resisting the 'flight' instinct and that we can help him deal with his fears. Who knows how much of it stuck.

Today was another day of iron sharpening iron. The kids had dental appointments this morning, which got Habtamu nervous and twichy. Chris reminded him that not only was his sister going first, but that this trip to the dentist would be exactly the same as the one 6 months ago. "I know mom," he said, "Different people different feelings." Chris seded the point and quit using the shame/logic angle and just comforted him. There was also some altercation that ended with Chris going into the bedroom alone feeling that nothing she said or did made a difference. Instead of just watching a movie and stewing, which they had been given permission to do, or finding something to bang on, which they didn't have permission to do but often do anyway, they came into the bedroom crying asking mommy to please keep telling them what to do because she knows everything. There were tears, group hugs, and even a mommy sandwich. Chris spent yesterday fueled by the knowledge that tonight she would get to go out to coffee with the ladies, and didn't even end up going.
Kids over coffee? What's this world coming to?


Mackinac Island aka Fudgie's Revenge

Written 7/29/09 - Mackinac Island

As you can see, we're off to a great start...

Yet again, I've become what I used to detest. Back about a year ago, when I didn't have kids of my own and had the brain capacity for resentment, I hated tourists. I hated being associated with the 'average American' tourist, especially when I was being one. Now though, other than your average tourist being totally rude and self centered, I take some comfort in seeing otherwise reasonable people being reduced into using their primal brains while dealing with their children in public. We went to Mackinac Island today I selfishly smiled as I heard a woman nearly lose it when she realized that her child had crawled into a rental locker and was able to close the door behind him. But my moment of vindication came when we passed a tall blond man standing on a corner with his son, back-arched and whimpering, in a choke-hold. I didn't talk to him, but know that story quite well. I was just glad to see someone else getting to tell it.

And besides, my time was coming.

It was a perfect day and we had planned to rent bikes and ride the 8 mile perimeter of island. This of course was a new experience and Little Mr. Anxiety was not on board. Chris and I go back and forth as to what is the best way to deal with Habtamu's fears. In general we feel the more we tell him up front, the better off we are, but to a certain extent, it doesn't matter. Once he panics he doesn't process anything anyway. Maybe what we need to work on is trusting us when he gets scared instead of trying to prepare him with the logistics of a new situation.

The bane.

The first problem of renting a bike, is choosing a bike. Habtamu had already decided that on an island full of bikes, none of them were going to be right. He kept saying he wanted one with only one chain, meaning one gear. But he also wanted an adult bike. What I heard was, “Too many choices.” So Grandpa picked a bike for him, which he didn't like either. The seat was too big and he didn't like the basked on the front. So he freaked out. I don't remember how we got him on the bike. I think I had to leave and ride ahead first and then without me there he begrudging got on it. Apparently in the chaos Yordi decided that her bike wasn't hip enough for her to ride, quote, “I don't look pretty on it,” but H was taking the limelight on this one.

It took him about 4 out of the 8 miles to level out, apologize, get back to his normal happy self. Yordi swallowed her pride and I never heard another word about her ugly bike.

After riding around the island, we returned the bikes and walked up to the Grand Hotel and back down. We didn't push our luck. We got ice cream and were off the island eating pizza by 5pm. It ended up being a good day but took it's toll. All us adults were exhausted and one of us forgot to put on his SPF7000 sun screen so now he's got sunburn on my... I mean his, mosquito bites.

*A word about the title of this post: Mackinac Island is famous for it's fudge. Local slang for tourists who come to Northern Michigan, go to Mackinac Island, and think that they've experienced all that the Upper Peninsula has to ofter, are lovingly referred to as Fudgies. Sometimes they're also called Trolls because the come from 'below the bridge.' Anyway, I just thought 'Fudgie's Revenge' sounded funny. I don't take any responsibility for any other interpretation of the word fudgie.

Fudgie. Fudgie. Fudgie.

Feel free to giggle.

The Grand Hotel



Narnia - The Lion, the Witch, and WhatTheHecksYourProblem?

(Written 7/28/09 - Cedar Campus, MI)

This morning the kids had programming (i.e. running around with other kids their age) which meant that Chris and I had some time to ourselves. I think I spent most of mine blogging and sleeping, though I can't really remember. The afternoon we had all planned to hike out to 'Narnia,' which is a pretty spot on the coastline of Lake Huron with plenty of rocks on which to climb around.

We knew the kids would like it but of course as soon as we said, “Trust us, you'll like it.” we got immediate resistance. Mostly from Little Mr. NothingNewPlease. We tried to cover all the angles... How long we'd be out, how far, how we'd get to the trail in the first place, who would be there, etc... but in the end it really didn't matter. As soon as we got there, he picked up a walking stick that someone else had kindly left at the trailhead and proceeded to beat it against every animal, vegetable, or mineral within reach. (I'm guessing just a little pent up frustration...ya think?) Eventually, it escalated and he turned his attention toward his sister. Chris heard her yell 'Stop' several times. In his version, she walked into his blast radius and therefore it was not his fault. Although from the way he was acting, he was clearly feeling guilty about something. Now it wouldn't surprise me at all if his little hot poker sister really was invading his personal space, but this quickly tumbled into the, “You always believe her, I'm not part of this family, I'm always wrong, You don't love me, etc.. etc.. etc...” So I stopped him there on the trail and let everyone else go ahead. We then sat down, I calmed him down and we had a reasonable man to man discussion in which we worked out his feelings. Nah, just kidding. I grabbed his arms and held him until he screamed like a little girl. Then I told him that this was the place where he could scream as much as he wanted to because no one could hear him and he could yell until he felt better. Needless to say with that kind of encouragement, he didn't scream again even after two other hikers tip-toed around us, but we did stand there arm-locked until he cried and eventually concluded that this was even less fun than walking and swinging a stick at his sister.

When we finally got to Narnia, he stayed with Grandma, Grandpa, and me while Chris and Yordanos took a detour to Lost Lake to get some pictures of the elusive carnivorous plants, and then joined up with us later. His sister was out of sight for about 4 seconds when he finally saw the rocks and his smile came out. He then spent the next hour bounding from rock to rock daring me to keep up. And as a final testament to just how much fun it was, he even recovered after slipping into the water so well that Yordi wanted to jump in too.

After all that screaming and fussing, he admitted on the hike back that it was pretty cool.

We have friends who have a running, "And what did you learn?" dialog with their children. They use it to acknowledge good behavior ("I learned that if I clean my room the first time mommy tells me to do it, I get to watch TV longer in the afternoon") and also to nail down exactly when poor choices were made ("I learned that the phrase, 'Make me' might fly with other 4th graders, but never use it again on Daddy.") We've tried similar discussions with our kids but we just get blank stares and end up answering the question ourselves. Chris told the kids after the hike, "Today you learned that you can trust that mommy and daddy won't lead you into the woods just to show you crap. Even if finding wolf poop was actually one of the highlights. That was just a coincidence."

I'm sure C.S.Lewis would be proud...


Vacationing with The Klingons

Written 7/27/09 - Cedar Campus, Michigan

So the good thing about family vacation week is that there is hardly any set schedule. You pretty much can do what you want when you want. The bad thing about it is that there's hardly any set schedule and you can gripe about how bored you are and about all the things you're not going to do for as long as you want.

What really makes daddy happy is when you complain for 2 days about how you really want to go kayaking, then complain while kayaking about how tired you are, then complain that this place stinks and we never do anything you want while putting on your shoes after kayaking. That really makes Daddy happy.

I'll give you a hint: Daddy's not a big fan of the kayak.

As I alluded yesterday, Habtamu does much better with a schedule than he does with a big line through the day on the calendar that says, “Free time.” So, in situations like this I become the program director, a job I'm not particularly fond of or good at. Apparently, “Go sit on the beach,” or “Go play with those kids,” or “Go make friends on the far side of camp,” or "JUST GO!" are not acceptable activities. I know, I know, I know how the song "Cat's in the Cradle" ends and I've listened to my wife talk about her latest favorite book, "Hold on to Your Kids" but sometimes it's a better choice to go commune with nature for awhile by yourself than trying to get Daddy to be as cool as your camp counselor. And it probably goes without saying that the things I wanted to do, like sitting and listening to some guys play guitar weren't acceptable either.

So this morning started like one of those bad breakups where the girl that you broke up with just won't leave you alone. And she keeps trying to hang out with you and get you to like her but the more she tries, the more it drives you away. You don't have anything to talk about and you don't want to do any of the same stuff, so all you do is disagree politely until you can't take it any more and start yelling at each other. Yeah, you've had that relationship. You know what I'm talking about. Ok, Ok, maybe that never happened to *me* because, like, I couldn't get a date until I was 32, but I've seen a bunch of movies where that kind of thing happened. I'm sure stuff like that happens all the time to real people.

Anyway, my point is, I was the one stomping off into the woods on more than one occasion today. I'd leave with my son's scowling eyes burning through the back of my head, and returned to his scorn because it was my fault his day was being ruined. This is pretty much what all parents strive for, right? You nurture a young life in the hopes that someday you can come home to either the apathy or disapproving glares that you've worked so hard for. *SIGH*

Well, the good news is, true to form he got this, "Entertain me" thing out of his system around lunch time and had a perfectly afternoon. So at least today there was happiness during the daylight hours. Maybe tomorrow we'll have a blowout at breakfast and even get to enjoy the rest of the morning.

Note: Yordi's hasn't been getting a whole lot of blog time this vacation, and I feel kinda bad about it, but really, she's been almost self sufficient. She's been making friends, holding babies, running with girls, chasing boys, and playing games since the van door opened. And when she's not doing that, she plays by herself. Don't get me wrong, she's still got some sass, but overall, she's really in her element out here and it's hard not to do side by side comparisions with her brother. They're just two completely different personalities, especially in the stress-response department. So you might not hear much about her this week but that's because the old, "No news is good news" adage applies.


Michigan weather isn't the only thing that changes on a dime...

(Written 7/26/09)

If you know my son at all, he doesn't respond well to new situations. He likes to know the schedule, the system, the plan, the options, the people, the places, the everything. If there's anything unknown, he gets frustrated which can easily turn into panic and then fight or flight. This pretty much dooms anything... new, like say, oh I don't know... maybe a vacation.

The first couple times, as a reasonable adult, the fear is understandable and easy to deal with. You go over the schedule. You walk the paths so he knows where everything is. You go over the schedule again. But eventually even the most patient mama bird has to start prodding the little ones out of the nest. Here at camp, there's a lot of unstructured free time. This leaves Habtamu with a lot of time to watch other people playing games, getting to know each other, having fun, etc... and he becomes unfillable. Whatever he's doing isn't as enjoyable as what those other kids are doing, especially when it's exactly what he thought he wanted to do. And that's when daddy gets irritable.

At one point, and honestly I don't even remember what the catalyst was, H slammed the door and went out in the hallway and started flicking the lights on and off. He hasn't done that particular combination at home for a long time, but it's his way of saying, “Come get me I'm inconsolable.” The problem is at that point he won't “find his center” and come back. He can't cool down and it escalates, usually in front of other people, until I intervene... which of course is really what he wants, he just ran out of other ways to say it. So attempting to nip this bud as quickly as possible I storm the hallway telling him in no uncertain terms to get away from the light-switch because there are sleeping babies close by. He says 'No!' but stops anyway. I grab for his wrist and try to make eye contact. Now, neither action is going to make the situation better but I know how this is going to play out and I just want it over. He pulls and tells me to let go, I twist his forearm and tell him to get it together (aren't I helpful when I'm angry?) and then there's a small pop in his arm. Now, when I say 'small pop' I mean like cracking knuckles pop, not shoulder dislocation pop although honestly if his arm would have come out of the socket at that moment I probably would have beat him with it. Usually he finds his growth-spurt crunchiness very amusing, and I knew instantly that there was no (real) damage done, but don't think for a moment that it would prevent him from dropping to the floor and writhing like a 2 year old. I, oh so helpfully, reminded him of the age he was acting, and dragged him back to the room where we could finish this without a conservative Christian audience or keeping those sleeping babies awake. [Side note from Chris: I also told him to keep it down because babies were sleeping. He said "No!" very angrily, but in a whisper.]

Once we got into the room, I tried something a little different. I normally keep him on my lap until he's done freaking or has cried it out, but the bunkbeds didn't exactly accommodate that. This time, I let him sit across from me almost immediately. I think it took more time because he didn't cry it out right away, but we eventually talked it through. I heard all about how there was nothing to do here, and how everybody else was having fun, and how he wanted to go home. He never did admit to me how scared he was and it still bugs me that he never really came to terms with that.

Usually with H, when it's over, it's over and you get a good solid hug and an earnest apology. This time I got a weak hug and the apology was more of a statement than an admission of guilt. I suspect though, it's because he's still afraid and really hadn't resolved those fears yet.

It wasn't until well after dinner that he got involved with some kids throwing a frisbee around and then a volleyball game. That's when we finally saw that big natural smile of his. An hour and a half after his normal bed time he came up to me sweating and grinning and said that maybe this place wasn't so bad after all. Maybe tomorrow he'll figure that out while it's still daylight...



The thin line between a “Family GetAway” and “Family, Get Away!”

Posted by Lee... Notes from last week...

Well, this is vacation week for Team Gardner. We reserved our spot for Family vacation week at Cedar Campus in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Grandma and Grandpa Gardner are here too and even offered to take the kids in the minivan/camper a day early. They planned on breaking the trip up into 2 parts while Chris and I blitzed up Saturday morning so she could get one more night's sleep in her own bed. We were saddle sore, but in good spirits when we met up at the camp. People looked at me funny when I told them that we were starting our family vacation by intentionally not driving together, but in this case it worked. A friend from work loaned us his DVD player so the kids enjoyed their extended movie time in the van, as did G'ma and G'pa. :-) Chris got to listen to Phantom of the Opera throughout her shift driving, which she somehow finds relaxing. I guess it helps to know the storyline because all I heard was shrieking, arguing, some evil laughter and the occasional lull so the next round of random screaming would jar me half out of my seat. I tried to get back at her when it was my turn to drive, but I didn't have anything particularly obnoxious on my MP3 player. Remind me next time to load up on bagpipe and tuba duets for just such an occasion. Anyway, we all made it and it looks like we're off to a good start.


Great Parenting Moment: One and Counting

Ok, ok, I've probably had more than one good parenting moment, but lately it just feels like I'm no closer to competent than the previous day.

Last night both kids were wound up. Habtamu, of all people, was saying he "Heard Something", which has been Yordanos' siren call. Then Habtamu got up to turn his fan off and startled Yordanos who then "Heard Something, and it can't be Habtamu because he can't make that sound." Meanwhile Habtamu is re-enacting turning the fan off, and it is determined that YES, he CAN make that sound.

BT (BedTime) + 1 hour: Yordanos comes down crying, thinking about Ethiopia. It's obvious that she's exhausted, and not to diminish her needing to process... past bedtime is not the time to do it. We sent her back up bed, but she was still upset and keeping Habtamu up.

BT + 1.5 hours: I dim the lights, and call both kids downstairs. Are you ready for the magic that is me? I had them work on a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Yordi and I side hugged and talked and worked on the puzzle. Habtamu and Lee did the same. By BT + 2 hours, they fell into bed and we didn't hear a peep.

I had told them to go back to bed if it was before 8:00 in the morning. Habtamu said "What about 7:50?" "Go back to bed." "7:59?" "Go back to bed." They got up at 8:30. All in all, it felt like what successful parents should do. :)


Anger Management

I never knew the dimensions of my anger before having children. I didn't know how QUICKLY and THOROUGHLY angry I could become in far less time than it takes me to tell you about it. Much of my anger comes from my own frustration of not knowing what the H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS I am doing. I was used to being the Master of my time and could arrange my life to avoid that which annoyed me. NOW, however, that which annoys me is with me constantly... Not just the children, but my own changeable mood swings... Some days, we're like marbles in a small bag, rubbing each other the wrong way, taking everything personally, all of us falling apart emotionally. Other days, we're like marbles in a small bag, with lots of hugs and kisses and family games and general good feelings.

I love those days. I think we're seeing more of those days as we join our hearts and minds into a cohesive and working family. I have not raised my voice in several days, partly due to book I'm reading, and partly because it just wasn't working for us. My son yells at me. I'm told not to take it personally by several books. I have remained calm while Habtamu's emotions come out of frustration and turn to anger and yelling. I'm not saying he SHOULD yell at me, but while he's in the yelling state, my yelling at him telling him not to yell... well, surely you can see why that wouldn't work. There has been some improvement since I started this... he is quicker to get over his anger and quicker to genuinely apologize. When we talk later after he is calm, our talks are at least productive and I can tell him how his yelling makes me feel and how anger should not be his first response to every. little. thing.

So. Things are plugging along here at Chez Gardner. We're planning to homeschool next year. We have our reasons, and all of them have to do with what we feel is best for them and us. I know homeschool vs. public school can be a powder keg subject, but I don't think it needs to be. I think we can all agree that if the child in question continues to learn and desires to learn throughout life, then hurrah! I won't fully address the "socialization" that people say we are denying them, but when I see my children interacting with people of all ages, colors, creeds, I'm not worried that they are missing anything. Anyhoo, if anyone has something pressing to say about homeschool, etc, leave a kind comment... one that doesn't indicate that I have not been an adequate (or "exceeds expections") teacher for them this past year. :)

That's all I've got for now... I'll try to get birthday pics up soon. I have to say, as lousy as this weather has been for July, it has been phenominally overcast for pictures. Oh! How wonderful not to have direct sunlight. In truth, I prefer this temperature to the normal "I'm meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelting!" weather in which I decide daily if shorts are really an option for me anymore. My thighs say "NON!" (They are French, you see.)


The Circus

This circus was so small, that this performer also sold us tickets. Also, there was no net. Yikes.


Flying through the Hoop.

Coolest picture I've ever taken, maybe.


Starved Rock


Dryish riverbed... will we find a waterfall?

Playing in the waterfall.

Good day for this boy. Another child got grumpy, but it wasn't any of mine! :)

Reading by the waterfall.


One teeny tiny frog... there were hundreds... thousands?