I often say, "Just relax," throughout the day. It's not as calming as you might think to hear it parroted back to me on the lips of my children.

Our church has a babysitting co-op set up, wherein we each start with a certain number of poker chips and trade them and our children around. It's really an awesome system, and I used some of my chips today to go get a massage.

I just returned from the Y to retrieve a forgotten watch. We were just sitting around and Yordanos suddenly burst out crying. We all looked at her, completely flummoxed. Finally got out of her that she'd left her watch at the Y after swimming. She's also previously forgotten goggles and her bathing suit. I advocated mercy, because I remember feeling bad about stuff like that when I was young, and I didn't want to add to her bad feelings. She thanked me for going back to get it for her, and I told her not to take it to the Y anymore. She said "Yes, you are right." Good humor restored.

Anyway, the massage. Or should I say Massaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahge. The masseuse figured out which muscle I pulled. It's this one, and now I'll work to relax and then strengthen them. I know when I hurt it too. Here's a true moment... you all seem to like those. I did situps for the 1st time on the angled board, where your head is lower than your feet. Well, there was a teen from church there, and I MAY HAVE done more than I should have to not look wimpy. I know, I know. I shouldn't have to try to prove anything. I can learn from my mistakes however, and my aching psoas is now a constant reminder to flippin' act my age.


A Testimony to the Pettiness of my Spirit

I get really P.O.'d when one of the children is in the 1st floor bathroom and I want to use it. I consider it MY bathroom since it is connected to our bedroom. If I have to go upstairs to use the bathroom, I am further aggravated, because I feel THEY should have to be the ones to go upstairs... not me.

Why do I feel entitled to have exclusive rights to the 1st floor bathroom? Should I not be grateful that we have 2 bathrooms? Yes, indeed, my friends.

Hence, my pettiness. I am working on it.

On a totally unrelated note: last night I dreamt that I was at a Star Wars Convention, but there was no Star Wars paraphenalia. Bummer.


Even Habtamu understands this.

Ever have one of those days?

This was not the case today, but it has been, and sometimes it helps to hum this little ditty for perspective.


Earth Day Review

My friend Katherine and I have started swapping kids one morning a week for school. I had the other kids and mine for Earth Day yesterday. (Completely disregarding the fact that it was my Mom's birthday as well. Sorry, Mom! Happy B"earth"day. Ha ha.)

I decided to do a unit on Recycling. I had the kids watch a short video about Earth Day and how it started. Then we sorted ours and Katherine's recycling. Then we went to the recycling center. It's a big scary, muddy place. Right next to the household recycling center is the recycling place for big items. Habtamu wanted to go look, so we asked a guy and he said we could look but to stay in a certain place. We looked at the piles of refrigerators and piles of big metal things, and I was fascinated. The children were not excited by it, and were dinking around. (Lee said I should have feigned disinterest so they would be excited.)

Then I realized we were standing on a truck scale. Altogether we weighed 400 pounds. It would register us one at a time for Habtamu and me, but nothing for the littler kids. Actually, I'm pretty sure Noe doesn't weight anything. Little wisp of a thing. :)

Then back home for a craft (we made wax earths out of a shredded candle and shredded crayons - melted with an iron), and a video about garbage and what happens to it. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE people!

After all the wonderful planning on my part, THIS was the best part of Yordanos' day. (And possibly mine!) She could not figure out how I was pulling my finger off.


How do you spell "D'oh" ?

I used the word "squinch" today, and the kids started laughing. It IS a funny word, but then I wondered out loud, "You know, I'm not sure that's a real word."

"Really?" the kids said, "But you know English."

"Yeah, really! I'll look it up in the Dictionary."

"What's THAT?!"

That was my head slap moment. How can MY children not know what a Dictionary is? I mean, really! I Looooooooooooooooooooove the Dictionary. Love with a capital L.

So I brought it out and looked up "squinch," which is indeed a word. I showed the kids how to use it, and realized I need a children's Dictionary now that they are semi-literate. They looked up "fish" (Habtamu) and "cat" (Yordanos) with some help from me. Habtamu guessed there were 450 words in the book. I laughed and said I thought it was a bit MORE, but couldn't find a count. He suggested we count them one by one. I assured him that that is not possible.

I'd like to share with you our new spelling program at School of Gardner. I like it and the kids like it, although you wouldn't think that they would.

I found some lists of the 220 most used words, and we do 10 words a day. (I also have lists with more words for later.)

1. I have them WRITE the words 5 times as they're saying the word.
2. I have them READ the words to me.
3. Then they spell them OUT LOUD for me (without looking if possible, with if it's a harder word) until they can spell them confidently.
4. Then I have them use the words in SENTENCE, to make sure they know what the words mean.
5. Finally, they take the TEST. They usually get all the words correct at that point. If they miss one, I have them write it another few times and spell it out loud to me again.

My Dad commented that that sounded a lot tougher than he remembers school. Me too, but I want to give them every opportunity to gain literacy. The bonus is that they like it. :)


Catching up... Easter Pics

Uncle Paul and Aunt Carrie set up an Easter egg hunt for the kids in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard. Aren't they cute? They are about to be hit with a Life Bomb: their 1st baby will be born in June.

Unable to find any eggs in the 1st 10 seconds, Habtamu has kittens.

After a brief conference with Uncle Paul, Habtamu rallies, considers his options, and starts finding eggs.

Yordanos, not finding any eggs right away, continues to search and point out her brother's eggs contrary to instructions. But she's just so pretty in her Easter dress, that it's hard to be mad.

Coloring eggs at Grandma's.
I've been pretty bad about doing things like this for holidays. Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's day passed with nary a comment from me. Any crafts they did on the subject were from church. (In their "Knick Knacks for Jesus" class.) So, yay, Grandma for keeping the traditions alive. :)

Breakin' Boards and Takin' Names

Habtamu and I got our blue belts in Karate earlier this month. We got to break boards with a palm heel strike this time! Lee was on hand to take some pics.

Here's Habtamu not warming up or stretching because he "doesn't need to." I'm sure you can see my issue with this. I'll have the black belts tell him how important it is, since he has yet to listen to my lengthy discourses on the subject... or my "just do it" statements. His response: shrug, eyeroll.

Habtamu and I conferring about how awesome we are.

Here's Habtamu holding his own with a blue belt. He comes alive in sparring, but only with boys and men. I am grateful for that, except that these ladies (and I) can take it. If we spar, he lets me back him into a corner and doesn't want to fight me. Again, grateful. And yet, c'mon kid, put some energy into it.

I spar ok against this kid, as he's one of the ones that drops his guard. He always starts by taking it easy on me, then realizes that he doesn't have to. Thankfully, I did not have to spar with the guy on the right: he was going for his brown belt (2 away from black), and you can see that I would have been toast. The boy on the left with the red gloves is the one whose shin broke my pinkie finger awhile back. He's a very nice kid, and I hold no grudge against him or his shin. I do begrudge my age which ensures that any injuries I get from now on will continue to hurt to some extent. My pinkie is much better, but, like the wrist that I sprained a few years ago, will never be the same again.

This is Master Burris breaking cement pavers. It was very exciting, and you can see Habtamu squealing in the background. :)


Mmmm... Chocolate

Y: Mommy? I want ferenge [foreign, white] skin.
Me: Really? Why?
Y: So pretty, and yellow hair.
Me: I like YOUR skin.
Y: Really? It's pretty?
Me: Oh, yes! And, honey, you watch the ferenge people this summer.
Y: Why?
Me: They will all be sitting in the sun trying to make their skin dark.
Y: Really? They want skin like mine?
Me: Yep.

I think Yordanos has the most beautiful color skin. I kissed her neck the other day and she said, "Why you do that?" I said, "Because it's such a pretty neck." She said, "Does it taste like chocolate? Hee hee... my chocolate neck." I said, "Yes! And I'm going to nibble on it again..."

Beautiful Day

Y: Mommy!
Me: Yes?
Y: The sun! Like a warm day!
Me: You're right! It's EXACTLY like a warm day.


Childish: Me or the children?

Conversation from this morning...

Y: Why you all the Peeps eat?
Me: Why were you digging in the garbage?
H: Not digging... just gum throwing away.
Me: Gum? It's 7 a.m.
Y: You said SHARE the Peeps.
Me: No... YOU said share the Peeps... I said they are mine. You ate all your Easter candy. This was mine.
Y: You not tell the truth. You said share the Peeps. Why you eat all the Peeps?!
Me: They were MINE.
Y: We share candy with you.
Me: Um, yeah, that one bite of the one chocolate bunny. You had about 6 bunnies. Anyway, the Peeps are gone now.
Y: You not tell the truth. You said share.
Me: I never said I would share the Peeps and they are GONE NOW.
H: You eat all last night? All five?
Me: Yes.
Y: You said you were full.
Me: This was after you were in bed.
Y: You not tell the truth. (grumble, grumble) You said share.
Me: (ARGH!)


Inch by Inch, pound by pound

I was kind of hoping to wait a full year before getting nostalgic, but last year at this time is when we started getting correspondence from Ethiopia and seeing Yordi running around at Easter reminded me of one of the first pictures we saw of her, with her shirt full of eggs.

Weight 49 pounds
Height: 47 inches

That was a year ago, this is her yesterday.Weight: 63 pounds
Height: 52 inches

Now I know kids are supposed to do that... you know, get all bigger and older much faster than you want them too, but COME ON!

Then there's her brother, here's a picture from May 2008Weight: 75 lbs
Height: 54.5 inches

And a shot from last week
Weight: 119.5 pounds
Height: 60.5 inches

Yes, you read that right. That's 6 inches and 45 pounds in one year. Now I know, it's possible that numbers got fudged somewhere between Ethiopia and here and that I picked a photo where he's wearing a sweatshirt, but seriously, would folks back in Ethiopia even recognize him any more? I'm not going to say that he's not packing a little excess weight, but he's also a very active bike riding, swimming, karate kicking, strong boy. He likes it when I put my car in neutral and let him push it down the driveway.

What a difference a year makes, huh?


Handling the Holy and Blessed Remote Control

On behalf of all the parents in the world, I present to you:

The Remote Control Commandments

Thou shalt accept the fact that using the remote is a privilege, not a right.

Thou shalt respect the remote at all times.

Thou shalt wash thy hands before touching the remote.

Thou shalt take responsibility if the remote becomes sticky, dirty or in some other way ceremonially unclean. We all know Mommy didn't gunk up the remote with raisins and peanut butter.

Thou shalt refrain from playing with the remote between your feet.

Thou shalt not argue that your socks and/or barefeet, are actually clean enough for the afore-mentioned activity.

Thou shalt refrain from putting the remote in your mouth, even if it faintly tastes like socks, raisins and peanut butter.

Thou shalt keep the remote in plain sight at all times and preferably in a universally logical location. On top of the toaster may meet the first criteria, but not the second.

Thou shalt not hide or 'accidentally drop' it deep into the couch cushion. See previous commandment.

Thou shalt not randomly change channels or volume, nor shall you deny involvement when it happens.

Thou shalt move thine butt to the TV and not continue to mash buttons and sigh heavily when it's batteries are confirmed dead. Just because Daddy does it, doesn't make it right.

Thou shalt relinquish the remote to Daddy upon request.

Thou shalt do so immediately and without pouting, hesitation, bargaining or sulking as Daddy will only make His request once. After which, thine options will become extremely limited.

Thou shalt not continue to carry the remote control around after TV/movie/game time is over in hopes of staking a claim for the next time.

Thou shalt not throw the remote at Daddy, the TV, or any unsuspecting cat regardless of it's working condition or your current mood. ("It" being the remote control, not the cat.)

And most importantly:
Thou shalt respect He who allowed TV/movie/game time in the first place, for He who giveth can taketh away.

Happy Easter!
I'm a democratic kind of guy... please include any additional amendments to the Remote Control Commandments in the comments.


She who will not be ignored, and The Patsy

This is Sibbie. She is our first, our oldest, and our lone female. The neighbor who found her had originally named her Sassy, but that was way too literal and certainly not for our new little kitten. So instead we named her after this totally obscure reference. See, how totally cool and clever we are!? Sassy; however, would have been an entirely more appropriate name.

I would call her the 'cattiest' of our 4 cats. She hates change and is quite content with you minding your own business. She has loudly protested and begrudgingly permitted the presence of all the other cats and children, only after accepting the fact that they aren't leaving. Affection is doled out completely on her terms. She will sit on your lap when she wants for as long as she wants and will nudge your arm if you stop petting her.

She's just starting to tolerate Yordi. I suspect that's only because Yordi has a core temperature of about 600 degrees and Sibbie knows a good warming pad when she sees it.

Momo (let the record show his name was not my choice) however, is a cat of the children. Last fall the kids saw him sniffing around the front porch so, you know, they just opened the door and he came in and never left. Much to the relief of the other cats, he lets himself be manhandled by the kids which takes the pressure off the rest of them. He's very curious and playful, but also a little off his teeny kitty rocker. I suspect whoever left him out on the street got tired of his midnight runs, playful nipping, and other antics. Fortunately our kids are always looking for a good distraction.

The thing that cracks me up about Momo is that he doesn't seem to have a built-in suspension system like other cats. He's a loud, hard jumper and thumps around like he's got a flat tire when he trots from room to room.

So there you have it, Chris has a cat, I have a cat, the kids have a cat, and Sibbie just puts up with all of us in her house. I really didn't want this blog to be overrun by cats, but I guess since the house is, it's kind of appropriate. My apologies to all the dog people out there who have suffered through reading this. We'll get back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans tomorrow.


Perfecting the Art of the BedTime Story

So I've started telling the kids bedtime stories after our pajamas/brush teeth/ read books routine. I have fond memories of the stories my Grandma used to tell my cousins and me. I have dreams of finely crafting tales over the course of several years that are memorable and poignant. Stories with universal themes that will be remembered for decades... maybe someday I'll actually write them all down. Maybe publish them and retire on Disney movie royalties.

But so far they have all fallen much more into the 'ramblings of an exhausted father' category and not so much into the 'Making Lewis Carroll jealous any time soon' category. I love the *idea* of spontaneously weaving a bedtime story. I just suck at it.

I'll ask the kids who they want in the story, figuring that they'd be at least mildly interested if they got to pick the characters. So my first story was about a Lion and a horse. The next one was about a Bear and a pony, and the latest one was about Joey (whoever that is) and God.

Joey, as the story goes, never cleaned his room. At this point, my cousins are rolling their eyes because they know that I ripped this one straight from my deceased Grandma's storybook. But regardless of my plagiarism, Joey goes on to have a Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout experience, except instead of the story being masterfully brought to life by Shel Silverstein, it was mumbled out by me in a darkened bedroom, squinting at the ceiling, trying desperately to put together the basic storyline, let alone any details.

Eventually though, I did sputter through it to the grand finale,

"... and then by the time his room was clean, they had filled 14 garbage trucks FULL of toys. THE END and Good Night," I said.

"Wait Daddy, what about God?" Yordi asked.

"Oh... right... um, and God said, 'Good job Joey! I'm very proud of you' THE END."


"Ok Time for bed, Goodnight!" and I hustled out of there.

Grandma would have been so very, very proud.


Daddy needs a little air, please...

Treading water.
Life Support.
Running on fumes.

You can call it what you want. It's those times when you just really don't feel like being a parent anymore. There used to be days when I didn't feel much like being married either, so I figured this wasn't unprecedented or that somehow I'd failed. I assumed it just meant something was out of balance. This time around I don't think it even had anything to do with the kids, I think it was just me being stressed out and/or exhausted and/or needing more 'Daddy alone time' than was available. Regardless, what made this weekend a little more interesting was that it was obvious Chris was going through the same thing. We were both drained... treading water... on fumes... whatever.

So we, very intentionally, tag-teamed for nearly 72 hours straight. One parent would come in, the other would go out (sometimes literally, sometimes just mentally) and try to recuperate a bit before the next shift. We weren't rude or obnoxious about it, but we certainly weren't subtle either. The kids began to realize it about midway through this little relay-race and started requesting 'everybody family together' activities. But mommy and daddy were buddy breathing, so getting all four of us together wasn't really an option.

Buddy breathing is a scuba emergency technique where two people share one tank. When one person is breathing, the other is holding their breath, and it only works if both people stay calm.

So we did. We acknowledged the situation and found solutions. Chris carved out time for me which I spent mostly sleeping. (A man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do...) And she got some reading done and some much needed and deserved quiet house time. The kids probably feel like they got short changed a bit, but it was much better than any number of alternatives.

By the end of the weekend we were all able to get together and head back into our normal routine of corrupting our children's value system. And really, what better way to bond with your children AND introduce them to the finer points of American culture than plopping them in front of classic Knight Rider episodes?

It wasn't pretty but we survived unscathed and ready to face the new week. Sometimes breaking even is actually getting ahead.


Random Ethiopians

So I was at Starbucks tonight with my friend Katherine. We, and sometimes others, meet there every Tuesday to knit and share stories from the parental trenches.

These 4 guys walk in. I immediately think "They're Ethiopian." Then I spent the next 5 minutes trying to talk myself out of my first impression. Why would there be 4 Ethiopian men in my small-town Starbucks on a TUESDAY at 8:55 p.m.? Do I think all non-ferenge (Ferenge: what Ethiopians call light skinned people... means roughly "foreigner") are Ethiopian? I tried to hear them talking. Was that an accent? Yes. Well, maybe they are from somewhere else in Africa. Nope, I can't shake it... they've GOT to be Ethiopian. Can't explain it... they LOOK Ethiopian.

So I get up the nerve and ask them. Yes, indeed they are from Ethiopia. I tell them about our children and ask how they happen to be HERE of all places. Well, they're on their way from Minneapolis to Chicago. (Ok, yes, that makes sense... our SB is right off the interstate.) The 2 younger men speak accented, but very good English. The 2 older men, both missing some teeth, nod and smile and squint... not understanding. They perk up when we talk about Addis Ababa. They ask about our children and how they are adjusting.

We shake hands and part. And I'm in awe of the total random (or not?) meeting with 4 Ethiopian men who happened to stop in for coffee during the 1 hour I was there.

And now I'm kinda kicking myself, because a couple of weeks ago a couple of women and a small girl came in and I had that same feeling... that they were Ethiopian. I didn't say anything to them, because why would Ethiopians be in MY SB on a Tuesday? Guess I will ask from now on. :)


This cat... he don't like you either.

Since Chris decided to share pictures of our extended furry family I though it was only fair to introduce the yang to Murray's ying. This is Rico, formally known as War, kitten of the apocalypse. He was one of 4 kittens born in our backyard two years ago. His brother Famine still hangs around outside but Pestilence and Death have since gone ahead before us.

Rico with his game face on.

We brought him inside because he was the friendliest of the four which, as it turns out, isn't all that friendly. As a feral kitten I would coax him onto my lap and pet him. He'd see my hand coming and hiss silently then roll his eyes back and purr loudly. I must have gotten to him at a very impressionable time because now he really likes to sit on my lap, or on pants that I've worn, or squarely on my crotch while I'm trying to sleep.

Rico has relentlessly hissed and swatted on sight of the children for 10 months now and thereby has trained them far better than any of the other house cats. If the kids see him, neither will go within a 5 foot radius. They will find alternate routes. They will not go in our bedroom if they think he's under the bed. They will call for me to extricate him if he's standing in front of the refrigerator or toilet. They fear the black and white cat.

There have been several times where I've looked at that cat sleeping peacefully after we've had some massive blow out with the kids and thought that he is clearly the smartest one in the house.


Love My Cat, Love Me?

This is Murray. He is truly the best cat we have ever known. We found him at a shelter. He was scrawny and sick. Lee held him in a football hold, and Murray looked up at him and started purring and kneading his arm.

He was very sick when we got him... sicker than we knew. He was very weak, and the vet said we had to decide if we were going to keep him or get a different cat. (The shelter gave a 72 hour guarantee.) Well, we'd already named him, and the PURRING and KNEADING and he was neutered.

He spent the night at the vet and seemed to have turned a corner. He got stronger every day. Then we noticed he was trying to, well, have relations with our female (spayed already) cat. She was (and is) a MOOSE, and he was no match physically for her, so she'd stand up and walk away. Turns out he wasn't neutered... probably so dehydrated and sick that his body didn't see a need to make his fuzzy peas visible.

We love this cat. The kids love this cat. He has never hissed at them... he lets them pet him usually and he purrs in their general direction. Both kids say "Aw, sweetie-cat! Look Mommy, he's _________ing. Awwwww."

Both kids have asked me if I should die, who will get Murray. Um. And Yordanos has said that when she is grown and moves out, she's taking him with her. I told her over my dead body.


Star Wars and the next generation

I admit it... I'm a Star Wars snob. I consider Episodes I, II, and III to be cruel and unusual viewing punishment. Don't try to talk me out of it. I'm pretty inflexible on this point.

My favorite SW episode is V: The Empire Strikes Back. I won't go into all the reasons that it is the best. Just take my word as law on this issue.

Introducing the children to the world of Star Wars has been fun, EXCEPT, like all the other children who did not see the original release of IV, they LOVE Jar Jar Binks. Sigh. I tried to talk them out of it. And Yordanos cannot get enough of the Ewoks. Sigh.

I hope I don't come across as a geek in this post... hmmm... probably too late. BUT, I am apparently not the only one who feels the love for TESB...

Witness... Behold the Wonder of THIS.

I totally want one. My birthday is June 7. Thank you.

P.S. Arnez, I'm totally jealous that you got THIS for your birthday. I knew what it was right away and coveted. Alas. My birthday is June 7. Thank you.

P.S.S. Dudes! I forgot that it is April 1 today as I write this. The item from TESB is NOT REAL. I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooooo disappointed. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!


How do they know?

If I go to bed at 10 p.m., the children will sleep until 8:30, giving me a solid 10 hours of sleep. If I stay up too late reading or playing Wii, and go to bed at midnight, they get up at 6:55.

I KNEW, I just KNEW, as I finished my book last night around 11:40 that it would not be a sleeping in day. Blast. It wasn't.

So, my original question: How do they know? Do you other parents experience this phenomenon? Will they get up at 6:30 during the week, but have to be dragged out of bed at 7:30 on Sunday for church?

I know I have it better than my friend Katherine, whose children wake up at 6 every day, regardless of the fact that their room is absolutely dark. Habtamu sleeps later now that we've got the blinds up.


Guessing Game

Can you guess what we did last week from this clip? Obviously, it left a huge impression on the children.

Maybe this video will clear it up for you...

Also, here are some pics that show the fun we'd been missing in our lives B.C. (Before Children.)


Latest Pics

Here's Yordi getting ready for prom.

As you can see, Habtamu has really been taking full advantage of our YMCA membership.

It's unbelievable how quickly kids grow up these days. Sigh... it seems like less than a year ago when we picked them up from Ethiopia.

April Fools! I know, I know, I fooled you all.

Back on planet Earth... Habtamu and I were loafing around the other day, and he started grousing because I told him that he had reached his TV limit. He needed to go exercise his body or his mind and I got the usual, "There's nothing to do and life is hardly worth living without TV" script read to me in return. I told him if he didn't find something to do, I'd put his head on a cat.

That stopped him in his tracks, and the best part was that I played it so straight, he couldn't tell what the heck I was talking about. He then told me that I couldn't because God wouldn't like it.

So I dragged him over to the computer and introduced him to the wonderful world of Photoshop, or more specifically, Gimp, a free photo editor. I pulled up one picture of him and one of our cats, selected his head, cut, paste and voila, we had the quickest, dirtiest Photoshop hack job in the universe. It was so bad it's not even worth posting, but he got the idea and so I pasted his head on several other pictures just for grins.

When Yordi came home, she didn't have the advantage of seeing the process unfold. She had to piece it together what had been going on that afternoon from her brother's excited description and a picture with her head on a mutt. Fortunately she really likes the yellow dress in the above picture and that got Daddy out of the doghouse. She keeps asking to see it and comments on the accessories every time.

The picture may be pure fabrication, but I may have created a very real monster...