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!