Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Couldn't MAKE UP Material This Good

Maybe my sense of humor is just better now that grades have been turned in for the semester, but it seems like funny stuff is going on all around me lately. Some examples:

From around town
-A few weeks ago someone put a (real) stuffed bear on the roof of the Catholic Newman Center at the University campus. We pass it every morning when we drop Faisal off for school. One day last week Eva said, "What's that bear doing up there?!" "Probably growling," replied Daniel, totally serious.

On Friday, when Eva said, "What's that bear doing up there?!" Daniel said, "Hanging Christmas lights." Sure enough, someone had put a Santa hat on the bear and a string of Christmas lights in its paws.

Sadly, there was a wicked snow and wind storm Sunday, and the bear is no longer on the roof. I will hope that he was safely removed and not blown off.

-The same day we saw the bear with the Santa hat (in fact, immediately afterwards), I noticed that the car in front of us had a little Pekingese dog in its back window. A little Pekingese dog wearing a sweater. And eating a donut. With sprinkles. No joke.

From church
-As I've previously posted, I will be singing this coming Sunday in our church's Christmas Cantata. This past weekend, we were rehearsing a song that contains the line, "Watching wise men journey in a tiny caravan..." when the conductor stopped us to tell the guys in the back row (all adult professionals) to quit talking. "I know what you're laughing at," the conductor said. "Guys! Why didn't we get a bigger van?!" one of the guys in the back row blurted out. Great. Now nobody can sing that line without laughing.

-The kids had their Christmas program at church (Kyle has a video on his blog if you're interested). Daniel and Eva did about how you'd expect a 2- and 4-year old to do on a stage in a costume. At one point, though, there was a trio of 3-year old boys who were supposed to share a microphone to sing one verse of one song. One of the kids, though, pushed the other two out of the way, grabbed the mic, and put it right on his mouth. Of course, then, the other two kids started jockeying for their turn, and it turned into a bunch of pushing and trying to outdo each other's singing. The director of the play tipped the mic so none of them could reach it, causing them to finish the verse on tiptoe or jumping. I laughed so hard I cried.

-Friday we took the kids to Parents' Night Out, a free monthly babysitting service put on by one of the campus ministries at Truman. You basically drop your kids off at a local church for the evening, and the college students play with them, help them make a craft, and show them a movie. When I went to pick Daniel up, we were attempting to identify his craft bag from among the rows of colored-on paper bags. "Here it is!" Daniel said, grabbing a bag. "Does it say Daniel on it?" asked the student who had escorted me back to get him. The bag was prominently labeled (in one of the college students' handwriting) as "Weirk." "Oh, that's his dragon name," I said casually, before realizing that this makes me sound like a total lunatic. This student didn't even flinch, though, but smiled and said "Oh, okay!" and led us back into the hall. Thank goodness for her and for whoever humored Daniel by writing Weirk on his bag. Good to know that somebody else can appreciate our son's (frequently assumed) dragon identity.

From the mouths of our children
-The other day Eva was pointing out the window and saying something about a passing truck. It took me a minute to figure out that she was calling this pickup a "Pull-up truck." Potty training is coming along.

-Come to think of it, Eva says a lot of funny things. For breakfast she likes to have "eatmeal" or yogurt with "knowla" in it (what can I say, the girl likes her oats). She calls her Winnie the Pooh "Poop Bear," and recently told her feverish brother, "Don't worry, Daniel. Daddy's getting you some Tylephone."

-Not to be outdone, Daniel recently told Eva (who was playing dress-up), "Eva, you're the prettiest blutterfly I never sawn."

-Daniel has also recently taken to using the adjective "man-sized" to refer to things. Like, "That's a man-sized candy bar there!" or "Whew! That was a man-sized sneeze!" I have no idea where he picked that up, as it is probably the last thing that would ever come out of Kyle's or my mouth.

...So there you have it. A bunch of stuff that may or may not be as funny to you as it is to me. At least it's saved for posterity, in digital form, to embarrass my kids in 10-12 years.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anger Management

Daniel is very interested in dragons and superheroes these days, so we've been letting him watch movies like The Incredibles and How to Train Your Dragon. He played these kinds of roles before we let him watch the movies, but sometimes I wonder whether we're feeding some very violent kinds of play. Today, for instance, he convinced me to partake in a rousing game of Trucks vs. Dragons. First, we had to line everything up like this:

The rules of this game, roughly quoted as he explained them to me are:

"Okay, so the Old Person (referring to me) takes the trucks, and I take the dragons, and they just PUNCH into each other really hard like they're trying to break something, 'cause these are REALLY mean dragons. Oh yeah, and Eva has all the flying things (referring to a plane, a helicopter, and Buzz Lightyear), and they're just going to stay over there and watch."

This was pretty much how the game went down, except that we had to start over a couple of times because I was not driving the trucks fast enough or hitting the dragons hard enough, and because eventually he decided that the dragons were going to pick up the trucks, "fly them in the air," and then drop them in a heap of ruins down the hallway. Here was the carnage at the end of all this:

I have to admit that I got bored pretty fast with the reality of Trucks vs. Dragons, despite my amusement with the name and object of the game. Once the trucks had been thoroughly destroyed, I took a break to make a phone call. In typical kid fashion, Daniel and Eva devolved into a screaming, hitting fight two feet from me the instant I got someone on the line. I finished the call with a lot of "uh-huh's," hoping that I sounded like I was hearing and understanding my end of the conversation. I hung up and very sharply explained that this behavior was not acceptable, and that now the person I was talking to likely has a terrible impression of both me and my rude, rude children.

Daniel then started into what seemed like an unrelated ramble, telling me all about the counselor at his school, and how she came to his class today and told them that sometimes kids have strong feelings, and might need to find something to do to calm down those strong feelings, like jump on a trampoline, or ride bikes, or run around in the yard, or take deep breaths, or sing a song or count to ten... Then he says to me, "Mommy, I see that you're having some strong feelings right now. I'm wondering if you should go jump on a trampoline or ride your bike or something."

Really, as a therapist I had to admire his use of the here and now in our session. I ended up telling him what a good idea that was, and how maybe I could just use a few minutes ALONE to take some deep breaths. Maybe I should have just asked to play another round of Trucks vs. Dragons.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things I am Thankful For, But Were Not Appropriate to Mention at Any Formal "What Are You Thankful For?" Event

1. My new programmable coffee pot-
Sometime in late October I dropped something on the ancient 4-cup (*actually 2 cups, unless you drink coffee from a thimble) coffeemaker I got in college, and the glass carafe broke. When we found out the replacement part is no longer available, Kyle suggested that I buy a big-girl size coffeemaker, since having to brew 2 consecutive pots in order to serve coffee for 4 loses some of its charm outside of the dormitory setting. I got a nice, basic programmable model, and was surprised the first morning at how much easier it is to get out of bed with the smell of fresh coffee wafting down the hall. The fact that it's already made when I wake up has prevented lots of frenzied drive-through stops before class in the morning. It's also nice to be able to make enough coffee for Kyle, Faisal, and me to each have a cup all at the same time. It's amazing what happiness a little $15 investment can bring.

2. A babysitter that sometimes empties the dishwasher-
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's great that our babysitter Katie is reliable, and is good with our kids and plays with them and makes them good lunches. And, no, in no way do I expect babysitters to do my housework. But MAN, on those days when we've run the dishwasher overnight and I have not gotten around to emptying it before I leave for work, it is SO nice to come home and find that detestable little chore finished and the dirty dishes put in the washer instead of stacked all over the sink and counter. If you're reading this, Katie- thank you, it makes my day!

3. Walgreens sales-
If you are not familiar with the deals that can be had at Walgreens, you really ought to look into it. Each week their ad lists some items that, when you buy them, cause the cash register to print out a coupon for money off your next shopping trip (like a paper gift card to the store). For some items, and these are different each week, the amount you get back is as much as the amount you paid in the first place (or more, if you used a coupon on that item). Every week, I march into our Walgreens and use the coupons I got from the week before to buy whatever will print me more coupons to use next week (as long as it's something we'll use). Because of this system, I cannot think of the last time I paid actual money for toothpaste, deoderant, razors, lotion, shower gel, and many other health and beauty items. Don't get me started on this; I think my sister-in-law Ellen once got stuck on a long car ride listening to me expound on my love of this system, and I'm not sure she'll ever want to bring it up again.

4. A live-in international student who is neither crazy nor unmannered-
I actively pursued the opportunity to host an international student in our home this semester. I was not pressured or forced in any way to volunteer for this. But the few days before Faisal arrived I lost a little sleep wondering “What did we do?” and how we were going to get along with a stranger living in our house ALL the time. I worried that he might hate us, or that we might not like him. I worried about how we'd communicate and what we'd DO with him... But none of those things has been an issue; we get along well and actually have fun together. What a relief! I think sometimes that we could be having a very different semester if not for our compatibility with Faisal.

5. Penicillin-
Last week I got what I thought was a stomach bug or a bit of food poisoning on Thursday. Then I started having fever, then by the weekend a sore throat, and by Monday I was completely downhearted from having spent four days feeling so absolutely miserable day and night. Sleep was filled with chills, sweats, and crazy fever dreams; I had no appetite, but could barely swallow anyway; every part of my body ached. Monday afternoon I got in to see the doctor, and tested positive for strep throat. I got some penicillin and a decongestant so I could sleep with my mouth closed, and woke up Tuesday feeling 10 times better. Woo hoo for modern medicine! I was better enough to drive us all to St. Louis on Wednesday, to shop ALL day long on Friday, and, most of all, to attend Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family (and NOT discuss anything on this list while I was there).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gingle All the Way

In our town, like most towns, the stores have been preparing us for Christmas since the day after Halloween. At our house, though, we've been in the holiday spirit since Labor Day. As it turns out, one of the funnier quirks of our international student, Faisal, is that he came to America really enamored of the song Jingle Bells. He says he thinks it is a nice American song, and he has dozens of versions of it (complete with video) on his iPhone. Some of these are traditional versions, some have synthesizers or electric guitar; there's the obligatory dogs-barking version, and even a kinda scary techno version complete with little girls dancing around waving pom-poms.

The dynamic between Eva and Faisal is pretty cute to begin with, but the two of them have really bonded over Jingle Bells. Every morning when Faisal comes upstairs for breakfast, Eva greets him with, "Morning, Faisal. I need Gingle Balls." And in his very agreeable way, Faisal always says "Okay, no problem," and pulls it up for her. We spend most of breakfast and the drive to Faisal's school listening to versions of Jingle Bells, and then we repeat the whole scenario again when Faisal comes home in the afternoon. One night in September, as we were driving home from dinner at a Mexican restaurant, with Faisal and the kids in the back seat all laughing at some "Gingle Balls" video, Kyle said to me, "We're a strange little family, aren't we?"

The other thing that has kept the holiday season in all of our minds this fall has been preparations for the Christmas programs at our church. Daniel and Eva are both going to take part in the children's program, with Eva reprising Daniel's cow role from last year and Daniel stepping up to play Joseph this year. As would any wise children's program director, ours started rehearsals the first week of September. We have been listening to the CD with all the songs to be performed over and over and over in the car for the past few months.

Today all their practices culminated in a dress rehearsal. Now, I was told that Daniel has been chosen for the role of Joseph because he is good at following directions, but not quite as good at remembering to sing or dance during performances. His only major job is to stand in the spotlight and lift the baby Jesus into the air for all the shepherds and angels to see during one of the songs. Today at the dress rehearsal he wasn't feeling very well, but if it was any indication of how the real show will go we are going to need to work on not: (a) dropping the baby Jesus, (b) holding the baby Jesus head-down by the legs, or (c) using the baby Jesus to wipe Joseph's nose.

As for Eva, she wore her cow costume, sat on the stage, and silently drank milk (ironically) from her straw cup. At the finale of the show, when Mary and Joseph stand at the front center of the stage, that little cow wandered up next to them and insisted on holding the baby. I'm hoping that this was because I was the stand-in for Mary today, and that she'll stay in her spot for the real thing. Really, though, for a two-year old, staying on stage is my only real expectation.

My contribution (other than being a Mary stand-in) is to participate in the adult Christmas Cantata. We have also been rehearsing for quite a while, which is good for me considering my level of singing experience. I thought it would be a fun challenge, though, and I've enjoyed having a "thing" of my own. I've been working really hard at standing near good, loud altos who are able to read music at each rehearsal. I'm hoping I can just hold up my part of the singing. Really, though, for a thirty-three-year old who hasn't sung in public since junior high school, staying on stage is my only real expectation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Last Picked

If you've spent any time around our daughter Eva, you've surely noticed that she is a hard-core devotee of the thumb-suck/hair twirl combo. She can use either hand for either position, moving back and forth as the need strikes. When she was a baby, this was a boon for us: she is a fantastic self-soother and was never interested in a lot of holding or rocking at bedtime. Just coming off of Daniel's baby years, where we spent every naptime and bedtime rocking him into a coma-depth sleep, we never made any attempt to discourage her habit.

Until recently. Recently we learned that Eva's talent does not, in fact, stop at being able to suck and twirl ambidextrously. No, she is also able to use the remaining fingers of whichever hand she is thumb-sucking to pick at her face, usually around her nose and cheeks. She is additionally able, somehow, to put the unused fingers on her hair-twirling hand to good use scratching and picking at her scalp, all while creating massive, twirled-up, knotty tangles in her hair. Sound like a mess? It is. I'm almost afraid to go in to her room some mornings and see what she's done to herself. For the past several months, she's been walking around with a permanent sore on each cheek, as well as scabs in her scalp made especially visible by her broken-off, thinning hair.

At first, I tried to treat the symptoms. I bought several kinds of children's "tangle-free" shampoo/conditioner combos, as well as some leave-in spray conditioner. I cut Eva's nails so short there was no white showing at all anywhere. We also tried placing band-aids over her cheeks while her sores healed for a few days, in the hopes that the absence of scabs would make the picking less desirable. But really, no amount of conditioner totally prevents tangles, and the constant pulling of the twirling ultimately results in some hair loss whether there are tangles or not. Staying on top of the nail trimming is difficult, and there is a fine line between short and too-short, which I surely accidentally crossed a couple of times. And the worst parent-intervention-fail of this whole story is the time I put an off-brand bandage on one cheek, then pulled it off to reveal at least half a dozen new sores where the glue had irritated her skin overnight.

This, then, was the final straw for Kyle. He decided to move forward with his plan to correct the problem at its source: Princess Gloves. We found some purple mittens with little pink bows on them, and talked them up like they were REALLY something special that she could ONLY wear at night. And this worked the first night; I think the novelty and all the princess flattery was enough to carry her through. The next several naps didn't happen, though, and bedtimes have started becoming more and more difficult. The funny thing is that for the first few days I don't think she put two and two together and realized that the reason she'd been having so much trouble falling asleep was the absence of her favorite activities. A few days in, though, I was there to see the light bulb go on. I was putting her down for a nap and she said, "I can't suck my thumb and twirl my hair with the Princess Gloves on..." and then her face lit up like she'd had one of Oprah's "ah-ha" moments. "I need these off!" she said, pulling at them frantically. I explained to her that we actually would prefer she not twirl her hair and suck her thumb (and pick her face), and want her to wear the mittens to help her remember that. Luckily she relented and has continued to do so despite her nightly pleas and protests to sleep without them.

The other funny thing about it is that the instant the gloves come off in the morning or after naptime she is like an addict jonesing for a fix, sucking and twirling with ferocious gusto. At this point we are not making an issue out of her daytime habit, which is for now fairly minimal and much less destructive, but I know we will have to address it one day.

In a twist of cruel irony, Daniel woke me up last night, screaming "Help! Help!" from the bathroom at 1:30 in the morning. It seems he'd been picking his nose in bed and had caused some bleeding... and by "some bleeding" I mean that when I opened the door to the bathroom it looked like someone had been stabbed in there. This was quite a nosebleed, and by the time I got the floors, toilet, sink, walls, and both of us cleaned up I was ready to go shopping for some Dragon Mittens for Daniel. It seems that as soon as we get one kid to stop picking (Eva's face HAS cleared up a bit in the last week) another one starts. Everyone keep your fingers crossed (and OFF of your noses and scabs) that we'll all pass through this phase quickly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Has Fallen

I'd intended to have a nice, plucky end-of-October post about things our family is up to, probably with some kind of slightly corny title like “Fall-in'” or “Fall Falls on the Sterups,” but the truth is that we've been just busy enough doing things that I've not had time to write about them. So here is the slightly late update for all the far-away friends and family about all the goings-on around here.

Where's the Beef?
As part of our continued effort to know where our food comes from, we decided to buy some locally-raised beef from our friends the Nelsons. They have a little farm and a small herd of cattle that live happy, grass-fed lives before eventually ending up as a nice roast or hamburgers or something in the Nelsons' kitchen. We lucked out by asking just in time to get the last half-beef share they had available for sale this fall, and our friends Madeline and John agreed to split the meat with us.

Mid-September the kids and I went out to Middle Earth Farm to meet the herd and select which of two cows we'd like to be ours. The kids were very excited to meet our cow, and since they all look pretty much the same to me Daniel was given the honor of choosing which would be ours. All the cows in the Nelsons' herd are named for characters in Lord of the Rings, and it turns out Daniel chose Boromir (good, because I'm not sure I could bear eating a cow named Eowyn or Galdalf or something).

Just before Halloween we received a call that our cow was finished being processed, and we drove down to Macon to pick up our half beef. As they loaded it all into our car I realized exactly how much meat half a cow really is. When we got back to town we stood out on Madeline's driveway divvying up all frozen bricks of steak, roast, and ground beef like bank robbers after a score. At home I found I barely had room for it all, but managed to cram it in there, tongue (?!) and all.

So the answer to “Where's the beef?” is “IN MY FREEZER, FOOL!” (okay, and Madeline's as well).

We had a nice Halloween weekend. On Saturday we carved pumpkins with the kids and, while we had the camera out, goofed around and took some pictures we could use to update our facebook profile pictures.

On Sunday we met up with our friends the Walstons to go trick-or-treating at the University. This, by the way, is another cool perk of living in a college town: warm, well-lit, indoor dormatory trick-or-treating for small kids. We went to the dorm I once lived in (and handed out candy in) as a student.

In under 45 minutes we'd been through 5 floors of college students squealing over what cute little kids we all had, and Eva had so much candy she had to drag her bag on the ground instead of carrying it on her shoulder.

We took a quick trip around our very small neighborhood when we got home, and for the second time that week surveyed our loot. I think it's safe to say that if beef and candy were a well-balanced diet we would not have to shop at all until spring.

Physical Feats
The kids love having a swingset in our backyard, and one of their favorite things is the monkey bars. Which is well and good, except that Eva is clearly too small to make it across on her own, and Daniel refuses to believe that he can make it without help. So I spend much of our playtime in the backyard walking back and forth under the monkey bars, alternating between holding Eva's entire torso and keeping a totally useless hand on one of Daniel's legs so that he can psychologically make it across. We have praised and encouraged, begged and bribed Daniel to try going across by himself, and last week he finally did it.

Immediately after that, I came to the front yard just in time to see Eva pedaling herself across the driveway on her tricicle with no help. This was the first time she'd been able to move around with the pedals instead of by pushing off the ground with her feet or having someone push her, and it was just such a coincidence that she accomplished it the same afternoon that Daniel first conquered the monkey bars. Kyle already had the video camera out, so he just went around taping everyone.

Without all the tricicle-pushing and leg holding I should have a lot more freedom during playtime. Maybe now I can finish the August issue of Parents magazine.

Happy Birthdays
Since our dogs Barney and Bailey came from the Humane Society, we have no real record of when their birthday is. Because we adopted them the first week of March and were told they were four months old upon adoption, we officially deemed November first their birthday. They are eight years old now, which (in dog years) makes them pretty close to being grumpy old men. While they are much lazier now than they were as puppies, they can still catch a rabbit, so we're hoping they have many more years ahead of them. I think they are hoping to live to see the kids old enough to leave them alone already.

To celebrate their special day, we got them each a nice bone, and the kids sang "Happy Birthday" as I unwrapped and handed out the treats. They chewed themselves silly in the backyard all afternoon, coming in only when they were too tired to hold their heads up any longer.

We also celebrated Kyle's birthday last week, but he got a cake and a Kurt Vonnegut t-shirt instead of a bone. Kirksville recently got a Mongolian grill, so we gave it a try and decided that the ability to choose our own vegetable, meat, carb, and sauce combination may be addicting.

So that's our update. Considering how long it took me to write and upload the photos for this mega-post, I may have to consider being a more responsible, frequent blogger.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Captain Neurotic and the Bag Lady

Eva is in some kind of phase lately where, every time we go somewhere in the car, she wants to bring a tote bag filled with, well... stuff. Really, there's no good way to describe it in a word. There's usually a multitude of doll hair accessories, some children's costume jewelry, a few books, an empty sippy cup, some plastic spider rings leftover from Halloween, and the list goes on and on until the bag is practically overflowing. She doesn't want to play with any of the items in the bag; she really just seems to want to hoard them.

Yesterday as we rode home from picking Daniel up from school, Eva sat in her carseat clutching her bag of treasures while Daniel looked on jealously. After several attempts to coax her out of the contents of the bag, he resorted to wailing loudly and moaning, "WHEN will SOMEbody be nice to me!? Eva, I share all my toys with you all day LONG, and you won't give me ONE little toy!"

Seriously, I'm thinking we maybe need to cut back on his TV time. He's like a caricature of some Jewish grandmother, that boy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Things My Kids Have Broken

The list starts out sounding pretty innocent, like casualties of any child's normal growth and development:
-Kyle's glasses, several of my pearl bracelets- All casualties of the grabby baby/toddler days. These things you expect; they're the kind of thing that fuel advertisements for flexible glasses frames.
-Various plates, cups, and other kitchenware- Some of this is drops, spills, normal wear-and-tear. Others are more extreme, like how Daniel used to bite completely through soft-spouted sippy cup tips as a baby. This sheds some light on why he was promptly weaned at 1 year old.

Other things just sound merely inconvenient:
-The pull chain controlling the light on the ceiling fan in my bedroom- Turns out that when you can't reach the chain to turn the light off, jumping off the bed and grabbing it on your way down is effective in the short term, but renders the light useless thereafter. At least the light's stuck in the off position so we can still turn on the switch and use the fan at night.

This summer was an expensive one for broken things, like:
-Our laptop computer- Daniel made up a new game. You might call it “Slamm-o!” To play, you see how many times you can loudly open and close the computer in a minute.
-The paint job on the entire driver's side of our neighbors' car- All at once we learned that Daniel was not as capable of steering or braking his new bike as we thought he was.
-Eva's leg- There were only two of them in that room, and that leg didn't get broken (as Daniel originally claimed) by just standing there in the middle of the room doing nothing.

Today, though, we can now add:
-The law- We ran some errands this morning, including a trip to the resale shop in town where I was selling some of the kids' clothes. There is a nice little play area there, right next to a display of bottle-cap necklace charms. Imagine my astonishment when, at our next stop, the kids each pulled a bottle-cap out of their pocket. I don't think they fully understood at the time that what they did was stealing, but they definitely had carefully chosen their loot, as Daniel's had a Toy Story picture on it and Eva's a princess. The ride back across town allowed me plenty of time to semi-hysterically lecture about what jail cells are like and what the Bible says about stealing. In the end the owner of the resale shop was a little TOO nice about accepting their apologies and brushing it off as no big deal.

We'd had kind of a rough morning up to that point anyway, and a difficult afternoon the day before, so this was the tipping point for me. I think probably the biggest thing that will deter Daniel and Eva from a future in crime was having to listen to my breakdown in the car on the way home. From the (amazing for them) silence and the size of their eyes, I'll assume they'll remember that for a long time.

So while I'd love to end this by adding one last thing to the list:
-Their poor weary mother's heart!!
That seems a little melodramatic.

Instead we'll just say that I'm just adding this to their tab. Maybe one day I can figure all this stuff up, add in a little bit for pain and suffering, and send them a bill.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Barney's Nemesis

The neighbors have a new kitty, and it LOVES to run around in our yard.

International Man of Mystery

Sometime back in August, we saw an announcement that a new language school at Truman was looking for families to host students in their intensive English program. Basically, they were advertising that they needed people to house, feed, and drive to school various international students who were coming for their four-week program, the first session of which started in September. This seemed like a good opportunity to introduce our kids to the idea that not everyone looks and talks like them. And we figured that we have an extra room, eat regular meals, and drive past the university at least once a day already, so we filled out an application. Soon after, we got a call telling us that we'd probably get a student sometime in mid-late September, and that details would be discussed at that time.

So imagine our surprise when, a few days before Labor Day, someone from the program called to tell us that our student would be arriving in three days. The day after that, the program representative came to meet us and have us sign some forms. During this meeting, it came up that the student we'd be hosting actually didn't speak or write much English at all and would probably need a semester's-worth (minimum) of 4-week sessions before he was ready to move on to university level. It also came up that he was from a conservative Saudi Arabian family, and that maybe it would be better if Kyle did most of the talking and we maybe should make some hearty side dishes if we're planning pork for dinner anytime soon. So now imagine our super-duper surprise.

When the day came and Faisal did arrive, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how young and nervous and altogether not-intimidating he looked with his big, messy hair, braces, and shiny designer tennis shoes. We really had an easy time getting along right from the start, despite the significant language barrier. All the things I had been nervous about seemed to be non-issues: he has sisters Daniel and Eva's ages and therefore does not find living with two small kids' noise that shocking; he actually came with a good knowledge of the English alphabet and a helpful translation program on his iPhone; and he seems to have fairly Western ideas about gender roles and no real problem interacting with me at all.

A month has passed now, and really the most surprising thing of all has been how quickly a person can just feel like a part of our family. Kyle and Faisal sit in the family room contentedly not-talking, each with his headphones and laptop. Eva is very enamored with Faisal, and wants to know where he is at all times. He is determined to help Daniel improve his soccer skills, and Daniel just eats up the extra attention. And I have a fellow connoisseur of fine caffeinated Coke and coffee products in the house.

The hardest part of the adjustment for me has not been anything relating to language or culture, but to the shock of suddenly having an 18-year old in our house. I worry about him when he's out late with other students, about whether he has enough cash and a safe ride home. I consider whether all the half-eaten chips and Coke in his room will attract ants, and wonder how one guy can so dirty up a bathroom in a week. We have to pry him away from all the instant messages (and Skype, and facebook, and email, and YouTube, and downloaded movies) for dinner. Kyle went to bed with a pillow over his ears tonight to be able to sleep through the late-night cell phone conversations.

It would be impossible for me to recount all the fun and funny things that have happened to us this month, but there are a few I carry around in my head. Like Faisal's frustrated attempts to get us to tell him the name of that actor he likes from the movie Speed and Anger (actually called The Fast and The Furious here in America). Or nights at dinner where we trade food vocabulary, and Faisal laughs at our attempts to pronounce Arabic words. It has been fun to introduce someone to new foods, new words, and new experiences. We are looking forward to celebrating the heck out of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas this year.

None of us knows how long it will take Faisal to complete the program and get to college-level proficiency with his English (not even him). But in the end I think we're all okay with that. I'm sure Faisal misses his real family (surely not even several phone and Skype conversations a day substitute for the real thing), but he seems pretty chipper and happy-go-lucky so far. So for now we're the Sterups- that family with the four blond people and the Arab guy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Love Those Alpha Gams

The week before last, I participated in Truman State University's Panhellenic Formal Recruitment for the fifteenth time. Though most of these years I have played the role of advisor, I have also been a helpful local alumna, a member of Panhellenic Council, a sorority member, and (originally) an unaffiliated student looking for an organization to join. By this time, one might think that I would be tired of standing in a line, wearing a matching outfit, chanting songs while waiting for the doors to open and the herd of potential new members to file in, but the truth is that I just am not. I heard someone say this year that there are few organizations where a person can expect the above scenario to take place, and those are mostly convents, the military, cults, and sororities. Despite all its weirdness, I have to admit that I love sorority recruitment. I think the fact that I joined Alpha Gamma Delta at Truman soon after it was founded makes me feel extra invested in ensuring it continues long into the future through recruitment of quality members. This post originated as a simple update for alumnae of the sorority; a way to report back to all the people who donated this year all the wonderful success we had. But, alas, I am a long-winded person, and always one for a story, and as I thought about what to write it seemed that there's a lot more that needed to be said.

The thing is, I regularly run into friends and family who (with varying degrees of directness) argue that, as a grown woman with a family and a church and a job, my continued participation in sorority life as an advisor represents a gigantic waste of time. And I have to admit that, when I'm forced to explain out loud that, for instance, I'm meeting with someone to conference about the importance of wearing pants or of not throwing beer cans at others, it does sound kind of frivolous. Many people are not into the whole matching-outfit thing, and on a lot of levels I get that. But the reality is that there are a lot more instances where I'm meeting to encourage someone to become a better leader by being more considerate or more assertive, to teach them how to plan a large event while staying on budget, to model time management or accountability or responsibility to others. So many college students are standing at the crossroads between childhood and maturity; figuring out who they are, experiencing adult freedoms and relationships, and learning work ethic and job skills... To me, it's hard to see how an investment toward college student development is ever wasted.

As a student, I gained so much from all the organizations I joined, especially my sorority. I am a Christian today because my sister Melanie Duran Kleimola cajoled me to a Bible study, encouraged me to stop blaming Jesus for the faults of his followers, and started me on a path to work out my faith. My sister-daughter Madeline Herrmann Nash was present at my wedding, the births of both my children, and everything in between. As adults, Kyle and I have tried to keep in mind those groups that gave us a lot when we were too poor and too busy with school to return the favor. If I were to pay back all that I owe to AGD, even just for my continued friendships with Melanie and Madeline, I would be advising for a long time.

My favorite Alpha Gam song is one called Today, and my favorite line says “...a million tomorrows shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.” Every time I sing it, I think of all the “todays” that I have sung it before, and all the joy that has been mine over the years. Some of it was while I was in college: screaming the lyrics to Karma Chameleon at a date party, packed together so tightly with my 100 closest friends that I couldn't move; living in Brewer Hall and proving once and for all that you can fit three women and a box of Cheez-its in a twin-sized bed. Some of it was on days when I didn't expect any joy to be mine: when my college boyfriend was horribly ill and went home for the semester, and my pledge class all pitched in to buy me a phone card then showed up together to deliver it to my apartment; when our sister Kelin died of cancer before finishing grad school, and we all sat in Applebee's for hours after the funeral, talking and laughing and telling stories about her. Lots of it, though, has been as an advisor: all the girls who told me I was a cute pregnant lady or that my kids are adorable; the hundreds of personalities and jokes that have made me laugh and laugh over the years; and all the times I started writing a simple letter of recommendation and realized what an awesome person I knew. I have a lot of time to go before a million tomorrows pass away. A million's a lot.

Finally, it really should go without saying that any group with a secret handshake (and knock, and password, etc.) is kind of fun to be a part of. This summer at Alpha Gamma Delta's International Convention Madeline and I were given awards for our years of service as advisors, and there was a super-cool secret ceremony that went along with that, too.

Though I have friends who would say that in college they were too intellectual or too mature or too religious to spend their time on Greek life, I can't deny that I was a part of it, that it's where I come from, and that I really loved it. At that convention this summer there was a woman who was recognized for attending twenty-six times (on a biannual basis). As the room applauded her I couldn't help but think that there is something to be said for dedication like that, for being willing to stick with something her whole life, even as that kind of commitment becomes increasingly rare in our culture. For those of you reading this who are AGD alumnae (or any other organization's alumni), I would strongly encourage you to volunteer as advisors or just as helpful alum to your local chapter. It really is worth your time and effort.

Okay, so enough of that. Those of you who are alumnae surely want to know about how things went, and those of you who aren't... well, you can stop reading now or can indulge some bragging and pictures. This summer I wrote to many of our alumnae talking about how other groups on our campus have really been stepping up their recruitment efforts, and how last fall we had lower numbers than usual as we lagged behind that trend. Many sisters responded to my letter with donations of things the chapter can use for recruitment and beyond, like tablecloths and centerpieces and banners and their time.

I am happy to report that all of your support and the members' hard work paid off! We had some of the best return rates we've had in a long time for all the parties, and the best ever for the preference round (100 women!). Our return rates were so unprecedented that we had to run out for more food and flowers before preference party (a good problem to have)! In the end, quota was 36, and we matched the full quota through bid matching, plus an extra 7 quota additions. This put us way ahead of all the other groups, the next-most-successful of which matched only 37 members. As the advisor for a group whose recruitment success is almost always overshadowed by the other organizations', it felt really good to walk out of that bid matching session.

Here are some pictures:

Open had a zebra-print theme with red, yellow, and green accents. Those of you who contributed to the purchase of black tablecloths saved us the cost of rental this year and for many years to come.

Also of note are the fabulous easels, which Ashley Coleman Barton spent hours spray-painting in my front yard during polish (work) week.

Here are some pictures of the preference party and the centerpieces in action. We did receive exactly the number we had asked for, and everything looked gorgeous.

Here is a picture of the chapter on bid day, just before yell-in. Note the snazzy new banner, courtesy of Ashley Hoffman.

And last, but not least, are the beautiful new members!

Thanks again to everyone who wrote, called, donated, came to polish week, or came to recruitment. The chapter is very appreciative, and very excited about the fall semester. Recruitment was, as someone I know likes to say, the most fun we could have had with our clothes on.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Last night, as I was falling asleep, I realized I had no real obligations on the agenda for today. This kind of day is a very rare occurrence for me, and has been especially absent lately. At the time, I told myself that this would give me the opportunity to do things from my "backup to-do list" (the one that always lives in the back of my mind) like take the kids to the park, do some grading, or write on this blog about some of the things that have been keeping me too busy to post lately. I thought I might make some granola or a special dinner or dessert, or get ahead in my lecture planning. Ooh! Maybe I could clean the garage! Or have a nice run! What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that would bring!

But this morning when I woke up, none of those things happened. Our house was messy; we've all been too busy to really do a good job of picking up after ourselves. We had loads of laundry hanging out in piles downstairs. It felt icky and chaotic here, and I finally reached the end of my very long willingness to keep going and going and going.

And so today I have done nothing of note. The kids watched a video this morning and then drew on the driveway with chalk. We didn't go anywhere, shop for anything, or do anything special. I did not do any exercise. I didn't make a fancy lunch, and I'm not planning a special dinner. The most accurate term for what I've done today is probably "puttering" around the house. Both the kids fell asleep during rest time this afternoon (which is like the Holy Grail of potential mommy productivity), but I talked to Maureen on the phone and watched some clips of The Daily Show on the internet. I have been leisurely working my way through our laundry and the stacks of mail and kids' drawings that are sitting all over our house.

And I must say: it feels really good. Unusually so. Mostly because I am a person who is always busy, and is prone to fill up these kinds of free days or weekends. I can always think of some extra project that could be done or some fun adventure I could have with the kids. Recently, though, I read something my friend Jennie wrote, about that feeling of always needing to be busy. She talked about what lies we tell ourselves when we believe that we can really "get ahead." Like if I just clean the house thoroughly enough, or plan out my lectures for the rest of the semester, or bolster the kids with lots of extra attention, that everything will be perfect and I will finally be able to rest. That next week will be an easy week. Her conclusion was that there is never an easy week, and that we waste our lives wishing for one.

It would be great to pretend that I thought of all this at the beginning of the day and made a conscious choice to rest today, but the reality is that I just hit a wall, and only see the benefit of our inactivity in hindsight.

Much has been afoot at the Sterup household lately. I have lots of things I could write about; there is lots of news to share. Maybe tomorrow. For now I am just going to tell myself that one little post is enough.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Genetic Legacy

So this morning I was watching Eva eat breakfast, giant Cars bandage affixed to her chin, and was thinking I could make my entire blog all about what a mess she seems to be. She always has something on her shirt, bruises all over her legs, two scars from accidents and at least two new sores on her face from where her hand rubs while she sucks her thumb at night. She has big scabs on her hands where she burned herself on the lightbulb from her lamp, as well as an inexplicable one on her chin that showed up on Saturday. She won’t leave any of these scabs alone, so they are taking a long time to heal. Finally, her hair is falling out in big patches from where she twirls it around her finger and gets it tangled. A good portion of the hair she does have left is broken off near her part line where she's tugged on her bows or pigtails.

As I considered this I also had this morning's Developmental Psychology lecture prepping in the back of my head. Today we talked about genetics, and about psychological phenomena we know have some genetic component (and how we study that, etc.). I was thinking about the heritability of personality, and how research suggests that one personality characteristic that seems to be very tied to genetics is neuroticism.

I then started thinking about the ways I am kind of a mess myself; all the little foibles and mini-crises I have created recently:
-While cleaning out the sorority's storage unit a couple weeks ago I managed to puncture a vein in my hand with a wire, causing a surprising amount of bleeding and swelling, and necessitating a tenanus shot.
-While using black spray paint for a project, I managed to color the undersides of my fingernails and all my cuticles black, resulting in a nice auto-mechanic look. I also accidentally spray-painted my wedding ring.
-While doing dishes the night before last my large dangly earring fell out and landed right in the garbage disposal.
-I realized at the end of one day last week that I had eyeliner on only one eye.
-I sent an email instructing a group of people how to look up something online, but directed them to the wrong internet address. I also gave someone directions to my house that didn't include my house number.
-I have had a number of Zumba wardrobe malfunctions, including wedgies, ill-fitting shorts whose pockets stick out every time I squat, and a pair of shorts I wore to class backwards (but luckily noticed before anyone else did). Let's not even discuss that one move I can do for the first 8 counts but then get totally off/lost on for the remaining 24 counts or so.
-Yesterday my boss sent out an email asking us to reply with what classes we'd like to teach next semester and when. I must have hit something on our laptop's mouse with my wrist, and accidentally sent "I'd like to continue teaching psych" before I was able to finish the sentence. I got this annoyed message back saying, "Which psych? How many sections? Day and time?"
-I cannot leave a voicemail message that doesn't include several awkward pauses and numerous "um... yeah"s.

Really, the list goes on and on. Feel free to comment if I've done something weird in your presence and haven't noticed yet.

When I think about it this way, it's no wonder my child cannot remain injury-free long enough for her last wound to heal. If my genetic material is what she stands to inherit, we can probably assume she's doomed to a life free of social graces. Or maybe we both need a little more sleep (or a padded house, or whatever). Either way, maybe I'll go a little easier on poor little Eva.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Failure to Communicate

I've recently become aware of a number of things that seem to have gotten lost in translation between us and our daughter Eva. I'm not sure if this is something related to her age, or just something she's especially talented at...

I noticed the first one a few weeks ago, when we were reading one of our favorite children's books. It's called No No Yes Yes, and is basically a cartoon baby that, on the left side of the page, does something that is a "no no" thing. On each corresponding right side of the page, the baby is doing the more appropriate "yes, yes" version of whatever behavior is being addressed. So, for instance, on the "no no" page the baby might be dumping his food on his head, while on the "yes yes" page the baby is happily eating his food with a spoon.

This book was very effective with Daniel; so much so that we would only have to say "What does No No Yes Yes say about picking your nose?" and he'd be off to get a tissue. Leslie Patricelli, you are a brilliant author and you deserve every penny you make off this book that contains only two words. I wish I'd have thought of it first.

The thing is, Eva does not seem as taken with the book, and it doesn't seem to have the same kind of sway with her behaviors. The other night, we were reading it, and I was, as usual, pointing to a picture and saying, "What is the baby doing here? Oh no, no! He's eating the dog's food!..." A few pages in, I noticed that Eva was saying things like "No No putting toys in potty. Here, No No going pee on potty. No no running from Daddy. Here, No No holding Daddy's hand." So it seems that Eva is under the impression that the baby's name is No No, and that he just does all kinds of random behaviors. No wonder this book is not effective as a to do/not to do guide to childhood.

Tonight, now, we were reading her Jesus Loves Me book, wherein some well-intentioned sadist crafted 10 or so extra verses of the song with some corresponding cartoon children depicting the lyrics. I have nothing against the song Jesus Loves Me per se, but after sing-songing the tune a dozen times in a row it really starts to lose its charm. About verse 6 or so, the children are outside playing ("Jesus loves me as I play, Outside inside every day...") and one kid has fallen and lost a shoe in the process. Both of our kids have always pointed this out during every reading, but tonight Eva informed me that "Look, Mommy! Jesus lost shoe!" As we went on, she commented that "Jesus has blue pajamas!" and "Jesus has big-boy bed!"

And so, it seems that Eva has identified the illustration character with the slingshot in his pocket as Jesus, and sees this very long song as a kind of "day in the life" portrait. You know, he's just hanging out, doing the usual Jesus stuff like going to preschool, playing legos, raking leaves in the yard, taking a bubble bath...

It kind of makes me wonder what her interpretation is of the rest of the things we tell her in a day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kyle, Me, and the WSOP

"Let's shuffle up and deal!!"

Despite the advent of the school year, I always look forward to August because it means one of my favorite television indulgences: poker (the World Series of Poker Main Event, to be exact). I don't know why I love it so; I just do. I am a terrible poker player myself, because I value my own money too much to really take a gamble, and because I tend to get bored with it pretty quickly and start doing sloppy playing. So it makes no sense, then, that I would find watching OTHER people playing poker so fascinating.

Very early in our marriage, Kyle and I stumbled upon this televised poker tournament, and for one reason or another we decided to give it a shot. For those who are not familiar with the WSOP, it really is the mother of all poker events; weeks and weeks of smaller tournaments (which are really too many to watch) culminating in the Main Event, a No-Limit Texas Hold-Em tournament with a $10,000 cash buy-in and (in some years) over 8,000 players. Oh yeah, and the prize for the winner is usually several million dollars, depending on the number of entrants that year. The actual World Series is held from the end of May until mid-July, but the Main Event is televised on ESPN at the rate of two hours per week (one hour usually equaling one-half to one day of play) from August until November. And we are a captive audience; you would think we'd have better things to do.

But there's just something comforting about seeing our favorite players year after year, following their ups and downs, celebrating or bemoaning the unlikely hands that sometimes come up. It's like a little poker soap opera for us- there are players we love, and players we love to hate. We would love to see a professional win, even though the number of amateurs is always a better bet, statistically speaking.

So here's who we're rooting for this year (every year, really) in the WSOP Main Event:
Generally speaking
-Almost any pro who is a quiet, tight player (someone who doesn't bluff super-often)
-Almost any female player, except those who try to flirt their way to wins
-A humble amateur with a low-paying job and a family to support who won their entry fee in some other tournament
-Kyle is always rooting for Phil Ivey.
-I am always rooting for Howard Lederer (the first episode we ever saw followed him through some very good tournament play, and I cannot betray my first poker idol). I will also accept Annie Duke, Howard's sister (I even read her poker book).
-We both like Daniel Negreanu, who is almost creepy in his ability to call what his opponent has and who always knows the odds of his particular hand winning.

Here's who we are NOT rooting for:
Generally speaking
-People who are really loud and disruptive
-Celebrities (except Jason Alexander, who is fun to watch, a good sport, and consistently a good player)
-People who are whiny babies when they lose a hand or who make fun of or bully their opponents
-Guys who just turned 21, and who got all their practice playing online instead of going to class at their (soon to be former) respective colleges
-Phil Helmuth and Jamie Gold

So here's to August, and to the WSOP. Maybe one day we'll outgrow it, but this year you'll still find us, two mild-mannered, financially cautious Midwestern homebodies watching everybody in Vegas play for the bracelet and the really big money. What are the odds?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Our Vegetable Adventure

So here it is, folks:
One example of the only kind of meal we're likely to make from our garden this year, considering all we've managed to grow is tomatoes and lettuce. There are still a few living pepper and zucchini plants out there, but they all seem to be really good at producing flowers that fall off before any real vegetable forms, so I'm not holding my breath. I think the kids had fun with the experience of planting, and Eva surprised us all by practically eating her weight in lettuce tonight, so I think we're at least minimally satisfied with the outcome. Still, I'm really hoping this will be a learning year in preparation for some more success next summer.

I had a small row garden here before the kids were born, and got a few good vegetables from it each year, but I never seem to be able to consistently raise anything well. This is probably because I have NO idea what I'm doing, and even less experience, and have tried to teach myself with books. We revived the garden again this year with the square foot gardening method. Despite thinking it was going to be the answer to all my problems, the reality was that many of them were still there: the bunnies gnawing away anything leafy and green, those strange black polka dots that take over the leaves of my tomato plants in July, and my general inability to decipher when and how is best to plant and pick things.

You'd think that with all the resources available on the internet I'd look some things up and figure out solutions to these problems. But for some reason this is just the kind of task I tend to avoid. Maybe it's that I get overwhelmed with all I don't know, or am afraid to look like I don't know what I'm doing. These people who know about gardening, where did they learn? Did they have parents who gardened? Did they have several years of mediocrity before becoming good at it? It's funny that I tackle with gusto things like sorting through health insurance run-arounds or choosing and buying a new car, but totally drag my feet to figure out how to prevent all the roots of my plants from becoming exposed. I do seem to eventually make small amounts of progress here and there, and this year was no exception. For next year I at least have the boxes and soil already prepared, and a big roll of garden cloth ready to block the bunnies' access next spring (thanks to my neighbor's suggestion). We may try planting a few fall crops, but will have to commit to that project fairly soon, so we'll see if I get there in time.

Our backup plan for fresh, locally grown produce, though, is only just beginning. Tomorrow we get our first installment of the vegetable subscription we purchased a month or so ago (basically a CSA where we pay a more successful gardener/farmer a fee up-front and then collect part of his harvest each week). The guy we've purchased from seems to be a nice, kinda chatty older man who refers to his program as “the Vegetable Adventure Plan.” Since he chooses each week what will go into our box, and the box is actually quite large, we will surely have plenty of chances to try some new foods. Our friends Madeline and John have been “adventuring” for the full summer, and thus became very acquainted with the many varieties of lettuce earlier this season. I can only assume from talking to them that it is a good thing I learned some basic canning skills last month, as I understand an event called something like “tomato extravaganza” has been foreshadowed in the weekly flyer that comes with the boxes.

Now, I am a particularly planful cook who hashes out a meal list well in advance, so rolling with whatever is in our box each week will really be a challenge for me. In addition to being more relaxed with the planning, I will probably have to look up some vegetables (like what is purslane, anyway?), and push myself to learn how to chop and cook and serve things I've never seen before. In the end, then, the produce subscription will be much like the garden in that it will make me learn to solve food problems I know very little about in a time-sensitive manner. Because the only thing I hate worse than having to teach myself a new skill is wasting good food...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rookie Season

Okay, okay; so it's been a long time since I've posted on this blog. We've had a busy summer, with lots of travel, lots of guests in our house, and (unfortunately) lots of computer problems, all of which I plan to write about eventually. These events have, however, reduced my internet time to only what is necessary to run my class and keep my inbox from overflowing. I have lots of ideas for blog posts in my head, though, and so I've finally decided to get one of them written down.

One thing we've done this summer is introduce Daniel to organized sports. We signed him up for t-ball at the beginning of the summer, and even though he was the one playing I think I also learned a few things. For instance, we showed up to the first game with no lawn chairs or blanket or water bottles or snacks, and quickly learned that we would probably need to invest in all of these things. We learned not to park in the spot closest to the fields unless we would like to wait for the entire parking lot to empty before we can pull out. And I finally started to understand why parents can run into problems getting their entire family to sit at the table together for dinners: six o'clock game times for just one kid really threw off our nightly schedule; I can only imagine trying to work around two or three different kids' sports schedules.

Also, I learned that the term "organized sports" should be applied very loosely to the four-six age range. Daniel's first turn at bat ended with him running straight across the field, toward second base, while all the parents and coaches yelled, "No! Go THAT way!!" Most runners on base forgot to advance to the next base until the runner behind them came up and gave them a tap. There were two fielding styles: the wearing-glove-on-head-facing-the-wrong-way camp, and the fight-other-members-of-your-team-for-every-ball group. There were no outs or scores, and though this was probably a good thing, it removed most of the structure from the activity.

I also learned a lot about expectations adults impose on youth sports. I was surprised to see that many players consistently had both parents, all their siblings, and some aunts, uncles, and grandparents at their games. Daniel's coach seemed really alarmed that Daniel would sometimes want to use the pink Barbie bat, and would run over to take it from him, saying, "Oh no, Pal. You don't want that bat. Try this one (handing him the Hot Wheels bat). This is the POWER bat. This is the one you want." All pretty amusing considering this coach was otherwise fairly hands-off. A kid on one team we played was very competitive and aggressive, sneering at other kids and repeatedly announcing things like how his team was going to "cream" them (a real feat considering the no-score thing). Kyle and I looked at each other, wondering aloud what that kid's parents were like, and what he'd be like by the time he gets to high school.

Let me not, though, exclude myself from this review of parental expectations. See, I enrolled Daniel in t-ball with the expectation that he would get some exercise, have fun, and learn how to play a team sport. Apparently I also had an expectation that he would pay some attention to the game, so I have to admit that I was fairly disappointed to see his lack of focus or enthusiasm during play. He was always excited to go to t-ball, and always said he had fun, but honestly spent nearly all of game time staring off into space and/or sitting down in the field. He almost never ran, neither after hitting nor during one of his very few attempts to field the ball. Frequently he missed the fact that his team had changed from the hitting team to the fielding team or vice versa, until his coach or Kyle or I specifically got his attention and instructed him to go to or come in from the field. In fact, Kyle and I (and the coach) spent a lot of time at games calling to Daniel to "Put your glove on your hand, Buddy!" or "Turn around!" or "Pick up that ball! The one that landed right in front of you!" as he stared off into space.

Daniel was also obsessed with snacks, specifically whether there would be any after the game and if so what they would be. Unfortunately we appeared to have been randomly placed on the only team in the league that did not organize some sort of snack-bringing turns system and therefore rarely had anything after the games. During the last game, Daniel was sauntering from third base to home to end the last "inning" for his team when he stopped dead in his tracks to peer into a bag on the ground that held juice boxes and fruit snacks. No encouraging yells from the coach or parents could break the spell as he stood there, transfixed by the snacks, while the whole game waited for him.

And here's where I come in. On this occasion we had driven five hours back from Nebraska and left all the unpacking undone at home in order to make this game on time. Despite the fact that we had gone out to eat immediately before the game, Daniel had spent most of his time in the field mooching the sunflower seeds the coach had in his pocket instead of playing the game. I was so frustrated when Daniel stopped running the bases that I got up and loudly chastised him in front of the whole field while roughly dragging him to home base by his arm. Nothing like ending the season with a bang, right? Now I could have imagined it, but it did seem like some other parents were averting their eyes from me on the way out of that game, probably because I had acted like a total LUNATIC over four year-old t-ball.

And this is uncomfortable to admit about myself, that I am more competitive or aggressive than I'd like to be, and that this extends to the kids' behavior as well. I'm not saying that I expected Daniel to whack home runs and make double plays at every game, but I did expect that he would care enough to try and to pay attention and listen to the coach. It was frustrating and embarrassing to me some days to have the kid who didn't DO anything. And I don't think that this will be the last time Daniel and I will struggle with this as he continues through childhood. His temperament is just slow-to-warm up and very cautious, something that I've had to work to be patient with. On the one hand, I appreciate and respect this about him, and know that when he's older I'll be able to give him more independence, knowing he will not do things that are reckless. But on the other hand, I worry so much that his fears and hesitancy will cause him to miss out on great experiences or to have problems relating socially to other kids.

I thought of this again today when Daniel was riding his bike, another activity that we introduced this summer. For the most part he is perfectly content to ride in little circles, over and over, on our small driveway. After little crashes he needs to be coaxed or even bribed to get back on the bike rather than give it up "until he's five." Last week I was so excited when he asked to leave the driveway and go around the block, only to cringe as he forgot how to brake and wiped out in the first 50 feet, bumping his head and putting a nice deep scratch all down the driver's side of our neighbors' car.

Since this incident, Daniel has once again refused to leave the driveway, but today I was overcome with the sense that if I didn't make him go back out there he would never want to. So I asked him, then begged him, and then forced him to sit on the bike and walked him, screaming bloody murder, out into the street. Even writing that now makes me feel kind of like a jerk. But as I avoided our neighbors' questioning looks and pushed the bike down the street, I noticed that Daniel had started pedaling. And then he stopped screaming and followed my instructions to practice braking. Then he started smiling and even laughed when I said, "See? You're doing it!" And though there's no excuse for dragging him to home base at t-ball I wonder if sometimes looking like a totally deranged, aggressive parent will be necessary to get Daniel past whatever is holding him back.

The challenge for me is trying to figure out the difference between a constructive push and a destructive airing of my own frustration. And I wonder if all kids and all parents go through this kind of thing on the way to learning how to play baseball or ride a bike. I don't ever want to encourage Daniel to abandon his sensitivity or sweetness, but I also don't want him to lack courage. And though I am enjoying Daniel leaving babyhood and becoming a full-blown kid, I sometimes think of all the challenges ahead of us as parents and feel like I'm the one who is totally out of my league.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our Blueberry Haul

This morning we went to opening weekend at a blueberry farm just outside town. The kids were able to stay focused for a reasonable amount of time despite the warm weather conditions, and we came home with almost 7 pounds of blueberries (two big bags like the one pictured above)! Actually, let me rephrase that: we checked out with almost 7 pounds of blueberries. Quite a number of them were consumed in the car on the way home...

This is just one more perk of living in a rural area. When I was a kid I don't think I actually knew where blueberries came from (trees? plants?), much less had a chance to pick and eat them right off the bushes. And boy are they delicious this way; I can hardly blame the kids for wanting to eat them by the handful. In fact, I am planning a blueberry cobbler for dessert tonight and blueberry muffins for Father's Day breakfast tomorrow. I'm wondering if it is possible to actually turn into a blueberry, like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("I have a blueberry for a daughter!"). Gosh, let's hope not.

Today was a good indulgence of my recent Michael Pollan "know where your food comes from" kick. We're thinking about buying some grass-fed beef this fall from some friends who have a small farm and herd. I wonder if the kids will be as excited to eat burgers when they've actually previously met Bessie the Cow (actually, this family names all their cows Lord of the Rings names, so it would probably be more like Gimli the Cow or something). I can't imagine that going over as well as the berries. Then again, it's hard to imagine anything going over as well as the berries. I guess we'll see...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Joy Joy Joy!

Today was a great day, and what I would like to consider the official start to the Sterup family summer. It started off early in the morning; as I was leaving to go jogging the dogs just looked so excited and hopeful to see me putting on my shoes that I couldn't resist letting them come along. And though my run in general was less than refreshing (it's HOT, even early in the morning, and I am SLOW, just now getting back to exercise after being sick), the sight of Barney and Bailey excitedly trotting down the street with their ears back and their tails wagging really made my morning.

We had homemade cherry almond scones leftover from the weekend (they'd been frozen, we weren't eating stale pastries), then Kyle emptied the dishwasher while I was in the shower (least favorite chore: completed for the day). After Kyle went in to work the kids and I went to the doctor to have Eva's leg looked at, and Dr. Bailey pronounced her healed enough to REMOVE HER CAST!!!

The saw was VERY loud, and Eva screamed bloody murder the whole time they cut the cast off. But Daniel was very sweet, standing with his hands over his ears in the furthest possible corner from us, yelling "It's okay, Eva! Don't cry! It's okay!" over and over. And the whole thing was very quick; we were out of the office in 20 minutes, and made it to the library program I had assumed we'd have to miss.

We had a great time at the library. The weather was good, so they held the show in a nice shady area outside instead of cramming us all into the building. At last week's event the librarian had billed this as a mime act, but there was a distinct absence of white grease paint and quite a bit of talking. It was very funny, though, with lots of juggling and magic tricks. Both the kids won super-cool stuff in the door prize drawing, and I wasn't fined for returning a book a day late, which is kind of like a prize for me.

After that we had a picnic in the park and played on the playground to celebrate Eva's two-legged freedom. When we got home the kids collapsed, sweaty and exhausted, for some glorious simultaneous naps. I saw an e-mail for a sale on children's clothing, but after a few minutes I realized there is really nothing we need. And THAT is a good feeling.

So energized was I by our fantastic morning that this afternoon I cleaned our bathrooms, sorted laundry, and swept, mopped, and vacuumed all our floors. We used gift certificates the kids earned through the summer reading program to go out for pizza for dinner, and then all went to Daniel's t-ball game. He actually fielded the ball twice, which he has never done before in a game, and he was so thrilled that he'd actually touched the ball.

I am surprised at what a relief it is to have Eva's cast off, for her to be able to run in the mud or go to the pool or take a bath. I'm glad to be over being sick, and to have some energy. The weather forecast had predicted rain for today, so the sunshine we got feels like something sneaky we got away with. We are getting used to Kyle's and my more relaxed summer schedules, and the local blueberry farm opens for picking tomorrow. Today just seems like the first day of the rest of our summer, and it was a really good one.

At some point during the day while we were in the car, Daniel just started saying "Joy, joy, joy!" over and over in a sing-song kind of way in the back seat. As I sit here tonight, belly full of pizza, in our clean, air-conditioned house with my healthy family all sleeping peacefully, all I have to say is:
My thoughts exactly.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

C is for Coyly Threatening Your Mother

Today the kids and I finally got around to making the cutout cookies I'd planned on baking before I got sick a couple of weeks ago. It was rainy here today, so it was the perfect thing to keep the kids occupied. Eva and I made the dough this morning while Daniel was playing at a friend's house, then after lunch Daniel and I rolled out and cut out all the cookies while Eva napped. By the time Kyle got home from school we'd just finished baking and we all frosted them together (This really is an all-day thing; this recipe makes about 12 dozen cutout cookies. If they weren't amazingly delicious we'd never make them). Everybody had fun with the sprinkles, and when we were done we each had one cookie. Happy day, right?

Before we'd even eaten our "one cookie each," Daniel started working on me about being allowed a second one after dinner. I put him off with the classic parental "We'll see...," but really I knew I'd end up giving him one. After all, he's a four-year-old who spent the entire afternoon focused on this project; I thought he kind of deserved a second. So eventually we settled on one extra cookie to anyone who ate a good dinner. I should have seen it coming, what with all the dough-eating, the licking of dripped frosting, the sampling of sprinkles. Nobody ate dinner. Well, nobody under the age of 30, anyway.

I made a meal the kids like, we gave lots of warnings, we encouraged and cajoled and gave them way past the end of the meal until I'd cleaned up the kitchen, but still no dice. So we calmly announced there were no cookies and started bath time. And you would think these kids had never seen a consequence before in their lives. Eva spent her first 30 minutes in bed tonight wailing "YES COOOOKIEEEE!," while Daniel came to the kitchen to "help" me put the cookies into containers to be given away or frozen. Our conversation went something like this:

"You know, I am feeling very angry to you right now."
"Oh yeah, Bud?"
"Yeah. You know just now when I asked you for a cookie for dessert and you said 'NO!!' (scrunching his face and yelling wickedly); that made me really mad. Do you REALLY want me to be angry to you?"
"Well, actually I was willing to give you a cookie if you ate your dinner. You're the one who decided not to eat. Maybe you should be angry with yourself."

Silence, thinking... Now very calmly, in a kind of menacing tone...

"You know, tomorrow, we will go somewhere and I will see someone and I will tell them that you did not give me ANY dessert, and they will say 'YOUR MOMMY DID NOT GIVE YOU ANY DESSERT?!?!,' and I will say, "Yes."

End of conversation.

Well, let's hope we don't run into any law enforcement officers or DFS workers tomorrow. Maybe they'll let me off the hook if I give them a cookie. :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Two Heads Are Better Than One

This past week was our son Daniel's birthday, and this weekend was the long-awaited birthday party. I'd mentioned to him sometime in March or so that we might think about inviting some friends over, and have subsequently been asked on a weekly basis to calculate the number of days remaining until the party. Yes, it was quite an anticipated event, with the extra excitement of a dinosaur theme and a visit from Grandma Jan thrown in for good measure.

And, as many kids' birthday parties seem to be, this started out as a simple idea that got more complicated as time went on. Now, I am not implying that we had an extravagant party or anything; there were no ponies or bouncy houses or ice sculptures. Just that, as these kinds of things go, it's hard to pick just two or three friends to invite knowing we're leaving out others. And once you buy the dinosaur plates you might as well get the matching cups and invitations. And, well, if our friends are bringing Daniel presents the least we can do is make up some games and send them home with some party favors. We were happy to do these things, but they turn a little get-together into a formal event, and while this seemed like a fine idea two months ago our family's recent health surprises (see previous two posts) put a kink in my advance planning.

And so my mother arrived on Thursday to find me miserably sick, Kyle tired and stuffed up as well, Eva in need of extra attention, and our house not exactly dirty but certainly not clean. Now, like many women, usually I have a love/hate relationship with visits from my mother. On the one hand, she brings too many toys, fruit snacks, and cereal I would never buy. She buys restaurant food for every meal and lies to the kids to get compliance (like telling Eva her nose will fall off if she picks it instead of just saying it's bad manners). On the other hand, she is great with the kids, and they LOVE to play with her. I do like doing things with her and talking to her in the evenings, and she is a good sport about going along with whatever stuff we've got planned for the week. She is as generous with Kyle and me as she is with the kids, and after all who doesn't enjoy getting out of cooking for a few days?

This week, though, a visit from my mom was just what the doctor ordered. She had good ideas for things to put in the goody bags for the party, bought me cold medicine and a patio umbrella, gave the kids the extra attention they needed, and let Kyle and me use her convertible to go out to eat without the kids Saturday night. I was more than happy to just order out all weekend, and to have extra help preparing for the party.

The other major thing that my mom did was design and help make the cake. Daniel had mentioned when we first started planning the party that he really wanted a dinosaur cake. So my mother went on a search for something that would be doable, but also really cool for Daniel. She happened to be taking a cake decorating class this winter and spring, so she arrived this weekend with a fully stocked arsenal of cake decorating supplies and knowledge. When I first saw the design for the cake I was a little intimidated: I had never made a 3D cake before, and I wasn't sure about all the little frosting stars and something that required a dowel rod. But she said she could do it and I agreed that the cake might be achievable with her help.

So Friday afternoon we baked the cakes, and after the kids went to bed Friday night we began assembling and frosting this thing. It really was easy enough, though it was time-consuming and the three batches of buttercream frosting made a big greasy mess all over the kitchen. Finally, at 1:00 in the morning the cake was complete. We dyed and toasted some coconut for "grass" to put around it, put it up where the kids couldn't mess with it, and took some pictures. We'd had some problems getting the head to stay together, but had finally gotten enough frosting to stick everything together fairly well. We crossed our fingers and went to get ready for bed.

Somehow, though, while I was brushing my teeth, I had a feeling that we were not home free. I only noticed it when I looked at the cake through the lens of the camera, but it seemed like the neck was pulling away a bit. I prayed that God would let the cake stay together until the party, then chastised myself for praying for something so completely frivolous. I revised it as a prayer for appropriate perspective on a silly dinosaur cake. Which was good, because when I finished brushing my teeth and went in to shut the lights off, the head had come completely unattached, fallen down, and broken into several pieces on the coconut grass. I went downstairs to tell my mom, and after examining the cake and bellyaching for a few minutes we decided to just go to bed and redo the head in the morning.

And so, about an hour before the party, we fashioned a different head (one that did NOT stand up) out of a store-bought angel food cake and covered it in a tub of premade Wilton frosting. Mom was dyeing and piping that frosting on like the Cake Boss himself. And in the end, I think it looked better than the original. We had a fun party, and Daniel has claimed the head as his own special piece of cake leftovers.

So Grandma Jan saved the day, for the cake and also for our tired little family. Thanks, Mom! We love you!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rash Thinking

My last post was about our daughter Eva's trip to the hospital, and our family's general not-healthiness last week. This post is not entirely about that, though I'm afraid things around here have only gotten worse.

Eva woke up yesterday morning with a rash from head to toe (I took these pictures this morning at breakfast, and they really don't do it much justice). We spent the morning getting her new cast put on and the afternoon at the family doctor for the ear infection follow-up and rash inspection. The medical opinion is that the rash is due to a virus, and that the same virus has caused the wheezy breathing and cough that Daniel had last week, and that Eva, Kyle, and I all have this week. In Eva's case, though, the doctors got a good listen to her lungs and started talking pneumonia. She is quite a mess; between the bright purple cast, the bright red rash, and the Darth Vader breathing we certainly turned some heads at Daniel's preschool drop-off this morning.

In the long term, I'm sure Eva is going to be fine. She, of course, is totally unfazed by all of this. She may look and sound sick, but is not acting the part at all. She has revived the monkey crawl from her younger days, and is destroying our house at, well, roughly the rate of any other two year-old on steroids. We had to rent a nebulizer to give her breathing treatments, and even for these she sits cheerfully in her booster seat, looking around while the steam puffs out of her little mask.

What really is going to be hurt the most by these recent happenings is the way I think of myself as a mother. Last night I was giving Polka-Dot-Eva a sponge bath and thinking to myself, "Now, how did I let all of this happen again?" This morning it was difficult to miss the moms and teachers at Daniel's school visibly cringing at the sight of Eva. Yesterday at the doctor's office and pharmacy Daniel (tired, I think, of seeing Eva get all the attention) made himself such a bratty nuisance that I could barely have a conversation with the doctor and pharmacist. I think it's easy to allow myself to think that I can always control what happens to my family, or the way my children behave, and to even take credit for them when they're being good.

Along with this comes a pressure (from myself) to uphold a certain imaginary parenting standard. And we are NOT meeting it this week. Last night Kyle was drinking the Blue Death-flavored nighttime cough medicine right out of the bottle. We are both tired, phlegm-y, and "itchy" (Daniel's word for "achy"). I have done zero housework this week, despite the fact that I am not teaching right now and my mother is coming to visit later this week. Daniel's birthday is the day after tomorrow, and we have not bought him a present yet. But nobody seems as upset about this as I am.

I had planned to spend the day today making birthday cookies for Daniel to take to school tomorrow, but the recipe (from my friend Jennifer for literally the BEST cutout cookies in the universe) requires lots of time to make, chill, roll, cutout, bake, and frost the cookies. Sometime late this morning it occurred to me that I could just buy some cookies at the store. Though I could feel the relief just at the THOUGHT of not spending my whole day on this project, I went back and forth about it for a full hour or so. Why? Do I think Daniel's teacher will think I'm a better mother for sending homemade cookies? Do I think Daniel will care, so long as there is a quarter-inch of frosting on his cookie?

I think the bottom line is that somehow I've fooled myself into thinking that store-bought cookies would be fine for other mothers, but that I should just do BETTER. That somehow, saving my kids from red dye number five and high-fructose corn syrup means that I love them more than if I don't. That having a cleaner house makes me a better person, and that I really must be the perfect from-scratch cook and mother and housekeeper. And now I sound like the latest flavor-of-the-month author on what's wrong with modern mothers (and NOBODY wants to hear about that again).

So here it is, America. My daughter looks like a contagious train wreck and I am taking her to my son's t-ball practice anyway (we'll just keep our distance). We will probably eat take-out tonight for dinner. Tomorrow I will send bought cookies to school because I took a nap today instead of baking. There are large tufts of dog hair on the floor under my dining room table, and the sheets in the guest room are not clean (okay, maybe we'll remedy that one before Thursday, Mom). We will probably be up late the night before Daniel's birthday purchasing and assembling a big-boy bicycle. And at the end of this week, at least we will have plenty of material to have a big, long, laugh at ourselves. And hopefully for everyone else's sake, this will be the last you'll have to read about the Sterup health saga.